Ethnography for Design

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by Nishita Gill (proposing) on Sunday, February 8, 2015

Section
Design

Session type
Lecture

Technical level
Intermediate

This is a proposal requesting for someone to speak on this topic. If you’d like to speak, leave a comment.

Objective

This talk proposes to touch upon some of these issues and highlight with a case how people’s values and meanings affect their interaction with objects and technologies and how understanding these can guide design. The larger purpose of the talk is to emphasize the significance of Ethnography in current day design practice, when design has moved away from being a cosmetic activity to one that frames problems in a complex environment. Ethnography thus guides designers in framing problems by helping them relate with the voices and world-view of those for whom they design.

Description

Why do we design? In the words of Herbert Simon, we design to change “existing situations into preferred ones”.
This opens up an interesting set of questions - what is “preferred”? Is it the same for anyone, anywhere? And who gets to decide that?

For example,the existence of toilets in urban homes is an unquestionable feature of “homes” because of their association with cleanliness, privacy and dignity. On the other hand, it isn’t so ubiquitous in rural Indian settings. This is often framed as the problem of “lack of awareness”.However, someone who has lived long enough in a rural context will understand that the place where one does their business has always been away from home and to imagine having toilets within “pure” home premises stands to violate one’s sensibilities.

Thus objects, environments and technologies are not just neutral entities that are “used” by people, but that also carry “meanings” in them which influence how one may use them, and experience them.

Where do these meanings come from? And how can we know them? One way of answering these questions is through Ethnography.

Ethnography is a research methodology that is based on the premise that people’s behaviours are guided by values and meanings that are often hidden. These hidden values and meanings can come to light when we suspend our own judgments, observe and participate in their natural settings, and have in-depth conversations with them. However, an Ethnographic participation and conversation is not just any conversation, but requires a certain discipline as well as a certain spontaneity.

This talk proposes to touch upon some of these issues and highlight with a case how people’s values and meanings affect their interaction with objects and technologies and how understanding these can guide design. The larger purpose of the talk is to emphasize the significance of Ethnography in current day design practice, when design has moved away from being a cosmetic activity to one that frames problems in a complex environment. Ethnography thus guides designers in framing problems by helping them relate with the voices and world-view of those for whom they design.

Speaker bio

Mayukhini Pande is a hardcore design researcher who is motivated to understand the complex nature of human beings and how that impacts design of things and systems that we live with. Her work has been critically acclaimed in design circles in India. She runs a design research studio in Ahmedabad and also teaches design at engineering colleges to help them reflect on questions of technology.