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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Second-Semester Slump
A second-year grad that I'll call "Debbie" warned me about the Second-Semester Slump: when all the adrenaline from first semester (when everything was new) has burned off, and you start questioning what exactly you are doing here at school, and, additionally, you are on demanding, long-term projects. The second semester (naturally) also comes before the second year, when you are mainly working on your own pet projects, in the form of the thesis paper and project.

You watch slowly as your bank account drains. You start fantasizing about work and making money and having your evenings and weekends returned to you. Your enthusiasm waxes and wanes, and your mood can be erratic.

The Second-Semester Slump is apparently a common phenomenon.

I'm totally feeling it.

posted at 12:42 AM in student life | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Rick E. Robinson
Rick E. Robinson, former chief experience officer at Sapient and founder of eLabs, visited Studio on Monday and gave a version of the talk he gave at Doors of Perception a few years back about ethnography and things to think with.

The object of research, he said, is to reveal the complex and pass on that information. There are three core parts to ethnography:

  • You go to them. It always happens in context.
  • You talk to them. Talk to the subjects, not read about them.
  • You write things down. Develop a disciplined set of data so that your findings can be passed along and used by others.

The research itself is comprised of four things:

  • A description. Of something: a thing, an activity, a belief, a setting, etc.
  • Interpretation. Not summary, not "insight," not wholly "emergent" either. It is grounded in the subject.
  • Towards an end. Research has to be both instrumental (useful to the people you do the research for) and salient (it has to be to the point).
  • Within constraints. Of site, setting, time, tools, material, solution spaces.

There isn't any one approach or method to ethnography: in fact, making up new methods is part of the interest in doing ethnographic research. You do, however, have to have a plan and go with a hypothesis that you can test. This way, you can engage with (and bring something to) the field; it keeps you motivated. A Hunt Statement is useful here. It details what you are going after, and teh best ones are this compound sentence: We are going after X so we can do Y.

There are simple heuristics that you can use to organize your observations, like the AEIOU (Actions, Environment, Interactions, Objects, Users) method and the Think/Do/Use method. There's also a broad range of techniques to gather data: guerilla research, cultural inventories, visual stories, beeper studies, visual diaries, video ethnography, interviews, etc. In a cultural inventory, you are trying to understand the vocabularies of perception: what is it that you see that allows you to create a context and understand cultural structures? Data comes from cultural production; in a cultural inventory, researchers are looking for underlying structures. In interviews, how people express their beliefs, attitude, and knowledge (ie how they tell their stories) is part of the data. Interview questions should be more open-ended than survey questions; you want them to construct stories.

For Rick, the real purpose of research is to create models of thought, which then become "things to think with." These models live between the setting of the research and what needs to be created. They describe something that is fundamentally "other" in a way that people who weren't there but have an interest in it can understand and apply it. Good models are like good art: subversive. Any representation or re-representation always offers the idea that things can be different. Examples of good models are Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" to describe the optimal experience and Vygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development."

When creating models, you are trying to make the research visible so that it can be commented on. The model itself doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be right. Try to let go of the low-level data and just make a story, then slowly add data back in to make an argument for the story. The best models have a long explanatory reach, parsimony, communicative power, and a multi-disciplinary point of view.

posted at 08:27 AM in big ideas, special guest stars, techniques | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Mapping Data to the US States

Can you guess what this map shows? Our project in Mapping & Diagramming was a map of the 48 continental US states, showing some kind of data that contained all the states to some degree. With no key and no text.

If you are interested, this map displays this data.

posted at 11:51 PM in projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, February 9, 2004

Interaction Design Language Readings
Readings for this week's seminar class with John Rheinfrank:

  • "Interaction Design Language: A technique for producing interface platforms that support interaction, create a differentiating identity, and accommodating evolutionary change" and "User-Centered Design and Beyond: From Static to Adaptive Worlds," by John Rheinfrank and Shelley Evenson
  • "Components of Adaptive Worlds," by John Rheinfrank, Shelley Evanson, and Don Chartier

posted at 11:29 PM in readings | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


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All straight lines circle sometimes. - The Weakerthans