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October 2007
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December 2007

Off to DC for AAA meetings

Going to DC for the American Anthropological Association meetings. Totally not prepared yet, but very excited about meeting friends. I tend to not blog the AAAs because they are so overwhelming. Its now 6 days from 8am to 8pm and about 30 sessions it seems running simultaneously.

I do have a super duper panel on Friday. So if in DC, come see it. With 5000 + people, the AAA is very lax about badges but tell them I told you that:

Title: Anthropology, Design and Govermentality: ethnographic approaches to civic designing and the tangibility of
governance
Organizer/Chair: Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall
Date: Friday, November 30, 2007
Time: 08:00:00AM - 09:45:00AM
Location: Marriott Wardman Park and Omni Shoreham Hotels.
Room: Coolidge

Session Abstract:
Justice, democracy, accountability, openness are not just abstract terms, but are tangible experiences for people
made manifest through designed artifacts, communications, and environments. This panel examines how
ethnographic approaches to civic designing make manifest the problematization of governance and people’s
participation in contemporary civic life. By ethnographic, we mean the questions, assumptions, methods, and
outcomes that seek to uncover people’s functional and symbolic meanings from their own perspectives. By civic
design, we refer to the government sanctioned and regulated public documents and forms, objects, machines, web
interfaces, and built environments that mediate the interactions between the government and the governed.
Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality, the panel looks at governance as the “conduct of
conduct” accomplished through the “disposition of things.”

The panel examines governance across the domains of aviation and transportation, urban and retail planning, IRS
design management, and public health. It explores the relationship between three levels of design and
governmentality: (1) public policy and knowledge, (2) design practice and the civic designing process as
ethnographically informed; and (3) lay people and the usability and meaning of civic design artifacts. It epitomizes
the emerging praxis of design anthropology, a field that seeks to understand how the processes and artifacts of
design come to define what it means to be human.

The panel begins with Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall’s framing of the two overarching themes that bring the participants’
perspectives together. First, design plays a significant role in making governance tangible to people. The poorer the
design of civic design artifacts, communications, and environments is to everyday people; the poorer are people’s
“feel” of the government. Second, ethnographic approaches to civic designing can remove the distance between the
government and the people by ensuring the rooting of the people’s functional and symbolic values into the designs,
and the policies that inform the designs.

Anthropologist Ken Erickson explores the world of FAA and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in
the design of Boeing airplanes accessible to people with physical disabilities. He addresses how interdisciplinary
teams handle the conflicts between the ethos of citizen-centered designing and formal government regulation.

Leilah Rampa, MFA student, shares her research and designs developing wayfinding systems on the Chicago Transit
Authority trains and buses for people with physical disabilities.

IRS designer and design manager, John Jacobin, discusses the IRS Design Management Project and the
opportunities and challenges of bringing citizen-centered design into this large government bureaucracy.

Abe Lentner, technical assistant for the City Design Center in Chicago, walks us through the design artifacts and
processes used to engage Chicago residents in the urban and retail planning of their own neighborhoods.

In conclusion, Ric Grefé, executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design, and anthropologist,
Inga Treitler comment on the significance of the intersections between policy, design, and anthropology the panel’s
projects represent.


IASDR07_Day 04 Part 1

Day 4 kicked off late (too much partying the night before).

There are a slew of conferences which were promoted and made me wish I had more money for travel:

Stephen Kyffin of Phillips R&D was the final keynote presenter.

Question: Why is it that all keynote speakers go over their time? I would think that these are seasoned professionals and yet each one went over by 15-20 minutes. It seems so disrespectful to the organizers and the audience, who look forward to being able to ask questions or discuss over break.

Stephen gave a 1 hr and 20 minute presentation about the difficulty of navigating a successful R&D design process at Phillips. I admired his candidness and wish that my IPD (interdisciplinary product development) team of faculty and students could have seen his presentation. I liked the way he framed research at Phillips as trying to build a better society through social innovation. He went through the design process at Phillips, images of which I posted on Flickr.

What was most interesting is when he walked us through the case study where they had the ideal innovation process with ethnographic research, experimental contextual behavior observations (where they put prototypes in people's lives and studied the disruptions), built personas and scenarios, built full workable prototypes, used the best design materials, had seamless technology, used narrative to tell stories of how the system of products integrated into people's lives with a 9 minute video. They showed it to the business unit heads, who found it compelling and inspiring, could not "buy" it. Why? He says because they did not package it in a way that the biz units could digest it, so they went back and had to repackage everything, but then the ideas get snagged in digital IP content wars.

So the gist is that R&D work is extremely frustrating and there is not a design process that is guaranteed to work.

"Business" Session

I presented in the morning on what was labeled as a business session, but as someone pointed out should have been called out as "social design".  Sharon told me that unfortunately I was in the worse room (dungeon like), but it actually was great because it was intimate enough to enable conversations. I mean real conversations not Q&A. 

The crowd was small but engaged. It seem to be well received based on the quality of the questions asked and people coming up to me to tell me that they thought it was great. Thank you for those who did come up.

But the presentation that inspired me was that of Maria Loschiavo dos Santos on Brazil. Can I just say that I love Brazilians. It is a vast over generalization, but with every one that I have met, I've had instant karma. Maria reminds me of my Aunt Jill, my favorite Aunt. But she is WONDERFUL.  Her presentation was so passionate. She stated that she is going to provide her own propoganda to counter Stephen's presentation in the morning. Her message was about how the homeless people who collect the garbage in Brazil are not disposable people, but rather a vital part of the Brazilian economy. Brazil is one of the top recyclers of aluminum based on their efforts. She discussed a class project collaborating with the COMPAMARE, the national collective for the homeless garbage collectors. The students designed new products out of the garbage, created signs that point out the humanity of the collectors as they push their carts down the street. See Flickr images. Most importantly, the work they did led to the collective gaining the deed to municipal land for their work, a library, and what Maria hopes to become a center. People clapped their hands when she was through. I am definitely getting her to contribute this case study to the Design Policy book.

So now I have to catch my flight to Tokyo then Chicago, so I will finish blogging the conference in about another 20-24 hours.


IASDR07_Day 3

Nothing to report except for the fact that I played hooky. But I did get the link to the IASDR conference papers by timetable, a new charger from Canon that works in Hong Kong. My hotel is off of Nathan road. I went to an electronics store. They told me to go to the Canon store, which I did a got a good charger. I ran into a lot of Africans on Nathan street who were staying at the Mission on Nathan Road.

I had lunch of dim sum at the hotel, which was full of Chinese families, Chinese business people, and Chinese and Western business people. It was really good.

I finished my work and went to the dinner at the Harbor Plaza Metropolis Hotel. It was like a wedding with large white banquet tables, but no ice sculptures. They had bird fortune tellers, paper cutting artists who did the fastest sillouette portraits, flour sculptors, and other activities. There was a Chinese mask dance for entertainment. It was a lovely time and I have some photos that I'll post on Flickr in the morning.

I have to go to bed, since I present first thing in the morning.

Nite nite


IASDR07_Day 1.5 and 2

I posted more images on Flickr on the conference and Hong Kong in general.

Day 1.5
I forgot to post my impressions of Henry Steiner's presentation on cultural FusionCrash. His was a provocative presentation about how the "East and West" read and misread each other through art and design. It was provocative in that Henry seems to have no moral center. When asked in the Q&A about what he wouldn't do as a designer, he said something to the effect that designers should push the envelop. While agreeing to some extent, there should be ethical standards of practice that he did not seem to adopt.

Personally, I found him a bit of a diva. He was very rude in the morning when we were setting up because he wanted to rehearse his presentation.

I then went to my hotel to take "a nap" and woke up at midnight. So that was the end of my first day of the conference. :)

Day 2

My long nap ended up being a good thing because it eliminated my jet lag. I had tons of energy for the next day of events.

The keynote speaker was Surya Vanka of Microsoft. His talk centered on emerging trends in design and design research and specifically the evolution of design at Microsoft from the periphery to the center with Vista. He had great images of the evolution of the Windows interfaces over time. He talked about "scaled intimacy" and how one needs a variety of research methods (quantitative and qualitative, ethnographic and usability and design) to cover the entire spectrum. One thing that always pisses me off when people talk about ethnography (read: anthropology) is that anthropologists used any type of technique that they could get their hands on. I did every research technique in the book to collect data over a period of 21 months. Ethnography is never a technique, but an analytical perspective of what one wants to do with the data. So stop reading ethnography and anthropology as one.

In general, what was interesting is not what he said but the fact that it takes place at Microsoft, and thus Bill can give a 2 minute message at World Usability Day about how important it is.

I attended portions of 5 break out sessions.

The first was on Emotional Design with P Desmet, S Tzvetanova, then I slipped out to see the evaluation of the Design Education Workshop program in China. The second full session I attended was on User Behavior and culture to some extent. Then I attended one on Museums and design to do something different.

Emotional Design
P Desmet's sources of product emotion was an insightful approach that crossed human goals, standards, and attitudes with emotions related to the product, usage, and consequences of usage. It is a good approach for students and may be a technique to get to what he seeks as "values" in emotional design.  The outcome of his approach was an airline tray available on KML flights that allow you to add condiments to hot and cold food in playful ways and is eco-friendly.

S Tzvetanova's gave a very academic presentation on emotional design methodologies. It was hard to hear her in the room but she was very professional and methodical in her approach.

The room was freezing from air conditioning so I wandered off to find other interesting topics.

Design Education
I then went to see about design education in China.  A Ms. Zhao gave a wonderfully structured presentation on a Japanese program to provide design education training workshops in China. She went through the history of their efforts:

  • 1997-1998 Providing basic industrial design training and curriculum to students in China
  • 1999-2004 Highlighting creative design and design management with jr. faculty in China
  • 2005-2007 Helping China transform to a "information society" by supporting communication design, especially man-machine communication (HCI)

She showed student projects such as robots, but stressed the importance of the overall success to the supporting of (1) students, (2) lecture staff, and (3) group work and creation of design community. Their last efforts were in using HCI to create design community including video records or projects, etc.

I originally intended to go to the second session on Design Education, but decided I was more interested in User Behavior.

User Behavior
The first presentation was by Nigel Power with Dr. J Tangsantikul in asbsentia. It was about rice cookers in Thai social practice. This presentation is why design researchers make me very angry. Their project was an anthropological project. They did oral histories of Thai women in their 70s, 40s, and 20s about the meaning of rice cookers in their everyday lives.  They drew upon Michel de Certeau and framed their project as providing designers "awareness of the impact and implications [of products] not just applications of work." When I asked if this was design anthropology, they disclaimed any anthropological relatedness because it was not long term research. When I reassured him that I will not attack him because he did not spend one year on site and asked him if his intentions were anthropological, he stated that he was more influenced by cultural studies.

I know I have my own biases as an anthropologist, but there is an entire body of literature going back over 150 years about how products get domesticated in cultures. Cargo Cult? Archaeology anyone? It is really a mark of poor scholarship to not tap into that literature by saying anthropology is about methodology and long term field research. An anthropologist does long term field research only really once in their career, then you may get 3 months, 1 months, etc. in a given site as the pressures of family and/or career make it impossible to get away for 1 year.  I understand if you are a practicing designer, but a design researcher has no excuse to not be engaged with that literature. None, whatso ever when Anthrosource provides academic access to the entire body on anthropological knowledge.

The second presentation by Arash Aharpor and SN Beiakhti of Iran interested me because it fit within my design policy project. It was about the redesign of Iranian public bathrooms to increase security and hygiene and reduce vandalism, social abuse, etc. So they did field research and surveys from 2002-2003, redesigned the spaces from 2003-2005 based on the design principles of mutual respect, automation, decline of social crimes, and efficiency; and did post-design evaluations from 2005-2007.  They were very successful of meeting the objectives by introducing a 10 minute timing system, automated flushing and water, self recoiling water hose, etc. I hesitate to ask them to join in the Design Policy book because of the top-heaviness of the social engineering. It really challenges me to think about what my design and governance ethos is about and why I am reluctant to see this project as part of it although it did all the things required to involve the citizen's in framing the issue.

The last one of the user behavior session was by K Inoue on Usability using Rough Set Theory. This was a very very technical presentation on the use of AHP (?) methods of rough evaluation to increase the validity of usability testing of digital music players. What I found useful for a testing protocol that I have to write is that he divided the evaluation into:

  • Which sample of players looked easy to use based on visuals?
  • Which sample of players were easy to use based on task analysis?
  • Which sample of discrete parts (shape, buttons, keyboard) looked easy to use based on visuals?
  • Which sample of discrete parts were easy to use  based on task analysis?

So while the ipod looked the easiest to use, it slipped in placement after task analysis. Very cool stuff.

Museums

I attended the session on Museums because I wanted to see something new. Anita Kocsis gave a presentation on working with astrophysicists for a 3D virtual exhibit at the Melbourne Museum. HY Hon gave a presentation on the design process for a color museum in Asia. Lisa Wastiels did a content analysis of the keywords that architects use about materials selection. They were all very interesting and engaging. They highlighted for me the fact that designers always worked in "interdisciplinary" contexts whether for an annual report where they have to understand the business context or for scientists where they have to learn the scientific content.

I find myself thinking that the buzz around "interdisciplinary" is a red herring. Communication design has always been interdisciplinary because designers were not the content providers or experts. What has changed is that designers are claiming the space as content providers and a running into their lack of contextual knowledge of the content domain. In the bid for control, designers are adopting the roles of writers and researchers and thus increasing the complexity of their role in the process, while the processes have always been complex (take it from the anthropologist).

Education

I came in late to this session, but caught Bruce Hanington's presentation on Generative Research in Design Education and R Harland's presentation on Redefining Graphic Design.

Of Bruce's presentation, I know the exploratory, generative, and evaluative research space super well, so I focused more on the examples of student work and innovations in methodology. Examples included one student having participants make clay models of emotional states or another student having truck drivers do collages of how they would want their truck cabin to be designed. Bruce positioned much of the student's innovative methods as serving as design inspiration as opposed to information. I feel that I have to struggle so much to get students to understand research that I don't have time to support the development of innovative methods. I feel this most strongly in the IPD course, where the students did not choose the more innovative research methods, in fact I had to go through and make several do in-context interviews instead of surveys.

R. Harland's presentation provided his evolution of defining the six domains of graphic design.  I think Jen Gehlhaar's (see my blog post on it) presentation at Schools of Thought III did a good job of defining what is graphic design today. But, here is the final diagram of R. Harland's presentation. You can't see it too well because of the head, but it is a kinda Ven-diagram that has idea creation in the center sweet spot, surrounded by image creation, word interpretation, and media realization.

Img_1744










In the evening, I took a tram ride throughout Hong Kong Island with 50 other people from the conference. Then a smaller group of 6 of us went to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. That was the end of day 2.

As for day 3, I'm writing my blog, putting together the final touches of my visual presentation, and will be hopefully seeing the city some.




IASDR_Day 01 Collaboration

Here are my flickr images of being in transit in Tokyo.

The first half of the IASDR conference was a blast for me. As I stated before, I was the moderator for the opening keynote by Larry Leifer of the d.School at Stanford. He is a very funny and smart guy. His presentation was about the collaborative projects at Stanford in the d.School and engineering departments. They do some highly sophisticated work.

The presentation did not explain much what collaboration is or how it can be improved, but focused on how it is done at Stanford. I like that aspect of it to some extent, because the theory of it would come later in the day. It made me realize how much better the IPD courses at UIC can be in terms of really engaging the engineering students. The highlight of his presentation for me is the study that one of his students did on social networks in collaborative team over the product development cycle. They did a visualization of it where in the beginning phases everyone is working on their own, as they move into the some of the first milestones, some collaboration is happening, by the time you get to the beta testing, it is lots of collaboration pulling in most team members. These dynamics were displayed in a sort of dynamic web of connections.

The great thing about the conference papers being available online is that I could focus on the impressions of the presentations instead of trying to take verbatim notes.

Again, I moderated the first two smaller sessions on Collaboration. Below are my impressions of the presentations;

The first presentation was by Carolyn Barnes and Gavin Melles of Swinebourn University in Melbourne on Managing Interdisciplinarity and specifically the contextual review. Their perspective was that the challenge of the contextual review for design research projects is that they derive from many different disciplines, so one never has a sense of having a handle on the context. They drew upon the Mode 2 framework which knowledge is "integrated, socially distributed, cross or trans disciplinary, sensitive to context, socially accountable and reflexive, and messy." When I hear things like this, I always think that this is what anthropology has been doing for the past 30 years. That design is not the only discipline that has to draw from interdisplinarity to build contextual knowledge, so why doesn't design draw from there.

The second presentation was from Michael Schmidt at the Center for Multimedia Arts at the University of Memphis FedEx Institute of Technology. He discussed not being trained as a graphic designer to design interfaces for bioethics. His project is most fascinating for me because it focuses on the Values/Design/Experiences framework that I've been using. In this case it is helping terminally ill children articulate their values in regards to giving informed consent for clinical trials in the context of conflict with parents whose hope sometimes make them ignore that fact that their child might want to spend their last days visiting their grandfather or having a party. They developed several digital interfaces to allow children to list and prioritize their values. They also developed interfaces to walk people through the informed consent protocol and more clear and engaging ways. I want them to submit a case study for the Design Policy book.

Then, it was Joi Roberts', design ambassador for Motorola, presentation on Academic-Industry collaboration. She did a great job of laying out the industry trends, the gaps in current student's knowledge, and the models of academic-industry collaboration that need to be redesigned. She was fabulous as always.

As moderator, some of the presentations went over. I learned to stand up when its time for them to quit so that I can walk across the stage if they are really taking too long. That seemed to work.

************

The second session on collaboration started with a presentation by Angus Colvin of University of Dundee in Scotland. He did a wonderful job of explaining the barriers of the Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing phases in team dynamics. He then addressed the role of visualization in taking people out of personality conflicts and getting them focused on the same goal.

The next presentation by Tamara Chirstensenl and Senay Easer of College of Design at Arizona State was excellent in terms of laying out a heuristic framework (actors, artifacts, atmosphere, and activities) for understanding teams and using it to do a literature review of the scholarly papers and books of design teams.  I don't understand why everyone has to create a new heuristic for the same thing, but she did do a nice interactive exercise to get us to think about teams we've been on.  I went back to the best team experience I've ever had which was the Allstate Financial team at Sapient. I still miss Miguel and Soni.

The final presentation I moderated was by Mike Zender, director of graduate studies at University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. He talked about collaborative design project with Dr. Keith Crutcher at Neurosurgeon on visualizing medical concepts for Alzheimers. What was cool is that his science colleagues forced him to test out the efficacy of the icon approach vs. text approach among experts. This provided great quantitative data to support his anecdotal evidence. This is good for design.

So I learned alot about the study of collaboration, which would be useful for the IPD course. Having worked in collaborative environments all my professional life, the experience of collaboration is not emerging, and the CSCW projects go way back, but it is an emerging interest in the context of designing and especially design education, so its interesting to see how the design research community views it.


Departing for Hong Kong and IASDR

I leave for China later today. I am really excited because it will be my first time in Asia. I feel so woefully under prepared for the trip. I have not learn Cantonese, hopefully in the plane I can at least pick up some greetings.

I won't be able to see much of the city because the conference days are the only days I could afford to stay. There is too much else going on for me to stay longer.

So there will be little shopping (everything is made in Hong Kong and China anyway). I hope to find some Tai Chi classes. There are free ones at the museum. Or hopefully I can find some in a park.

The conference itself is going to be great. So many people and papers. I moderate the first Keynote session, so that will make it easier for me to get to know people.

So I'm off to finish packing. See you in Hong Kong.


My Design Observer article

I have an article posted on Design Observer about how the design community would respond to designers being called to do service design (i.e. social and infrastructural systems design) instead of designing products and artifacts by the US Army. What are the ethical implications of that for the design community as a whole, beyond the ethical choice of individual designers. 

The comments have been interesting, but frightening in many ways for me. Interesting because (1) they are varied in both the readings and misreadings of my question and (2) more people have written to me off-line than on the post. It is frightening to me because no one has articulated a position for what ethical practice in the design community means. Not even a statement of "Thou should do no harm." In fact, the consensus (in feeling) seems to be that the question is a good one, glad someone is thinking about it, articulating it, but perhaps the question is premature.

Ric Grefe and I had a recent discussion of why I do not consider myself a designer. I'm a design anthropologist, and my students may be anthrodesigners, but whenever Ric speaks about "designers" I don't hail to that identity.  While part of it is that I don't have training in design (I've had training in fine arts and the principles of design shares with art.), the other part is that I think very differently from designers. In this case, I have a sense of group identity while designers tend to see themselves individualistically.  As an anthropologist (which is much more diverse a field than design), I do not act (as an anthropologist) without considering my actions impact on the entire field of anthropology across time and space. Obviously, designers don't have that sense of group identity and sometimes don't address the impact of designing on the field itself or of its social implications across time and space.

Yesterday, one of my students wanted to talk about changing her thesis topic because it felt too narrow. Now, through the research methods class, she wants her designing "to have a greater impact." I feel good about that because I have drilled into students the ethics of designing both within the community of designers and for whom you design (i.e. end user and client.) It saddens me that I have released them into a design community that is not prepared for them. So perhaps, they will revolutionize the design field when they come into positions of influence and power. It's sad that their passions and intentions will be premature (i.e. they will suffer frustration), because there is not ethical perspective to welcome them into the professional design community.