Monday, April 22, 2013

Trying out my very own robot cameraman

Seldom do I come across anything too exciting in life. I can count them on one hand: My first video game, my first use of a VCR and my first SatNav. Ok, I could add my wife, birth of our kids and the first time a client said 'Yes' to a proposal. But I want to stick to technology with this post.

A few weeks ago I came across something called the Swivl.

It's a 'robot' on which you can place your iPhone to follow you around a space as it films you. I got in touch and they kindly sent me a unit to play with. This morning, without any practice or rehearsal, I took it out of it's box and in under 3 minutes had it up and running. I can now add the Swivl to one of the things that has truly excited me in my life.

You see, I no longer need to worry about participants who find it awkward to film themselves. I have always talked about the importance of capturing naturalistic behaviour and the only way of capturing it being with a participant observer with a video camera. And now, here we are without a participant observer. Instead it's a small robot following the participant around anywhere and - critically - without being distracted by having to hold the smartphone in hand.

This is the robot that can capture behaviour as it unfolds. This is the robot that will change the way I think about mobile auto ethnography.

And although this post is not intended as a product review, I want to stress just how easy the Swivl is to use - by anyone. It may be a little jerky, have manual horizontal motion only and have a slightly buggy app (I had a problem sending the above clip to my camera roll). But all of these will be fixed. The key thing is the methodological flexibility to carry out explorations which would have needed a camera person present.

Let me end by making clear, however, that the Swivl will not replace an ethnographic researcher's perspective and insight. It will change existing mobile auto ethnographic methods by allowing users to capture their own behaviour remotely.

You saw it here first!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Designers and ethnographic research

Occasionally I get in my little old Prius (70,000 miles/112,000 km and counting) and drive for an hour or so, from my home near Brussels, South, to Valenciennes in Northern France. I go there to teach. Well, it's more of a master class. Which sounds very grand but then so am I. My class lasts 3 days during which I start with a question: 'Why are there no industrial designers sitting in the boardrooms of major client side organisations?' (no replies). Next I show them a film, and this really makes them sit up and take notice.

My talk has a backbone consisting of many vertebrae. The backbone is that good design has nothing to do with the success of a product (or service). I don't believe this statement to be completely true but it has the effect of upsetting some of the students quite early on and creating a general hush in the lecture theatre. And the vertebrae of the three days include:

  • Observing in such a way to capture naturalistic, unarticulated behaviour and using them as stimulus
  • Research data does not provide research answers, it only provides understanding.
  • Using intuition to generate actions based on understanding.
  • Difference between insight and observation
  • Insights are two a penny - now try to get a client action it!
  • Using observations to create insights and meanings to then create a framework within which a concept is conceived, refined and finalised
  • Creating a clear audit trail from final design back to observations - otherwise you simply have pretty, subjective, fluff.
  • Building a case for insights, meanings and actions which stand up to the most critical scrutiny

It's a very hard three days. Because, remember, none of these students have ever had to really use research to inform their thinking. Not in such a critical way. Added to which they need to film, edit, critically review and extract meaning from the films, in about a day.

To make it as realistic as possible, each team, once they have completed the research phase, has to present the findings to another team who then start designing. The briefing team then get to mark the design team.

I need to stress that I didn't just make up this process. It came from years of conducting innovation ethnography for the likes of Unilever, Accor, Merck, P&G and others.

The thing that impresses me the most? The realisation that designers are way more creative (especially when constrained) than many research managers, marketeers and planners that I have come across. And to keep them in the drawing office is such a terrible waste.

Are their outputs the same standard as clients who have many more days and weeks to run a project? Yes. If you don't believe me, come and see for yourself next time I run a masterclass. This is an open invitation to all except students.

I will write up some the outputs soon.