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Ethnography and Design: Mutual Provocations is made possible through funding from the UC Office of the President, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and participating units across University of California campuses.
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Friday, October 28 • 12:00pm - 1:50pm
Lunchtime Lab I: Ethnography & Industry FILLING

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Please join us for our first Lunchtime Lab for two presentations:

Transitioning from Academia to Industrial Ethnography
(hosted by Sharma Hendel and David Platzer)
In this workshop, geared to current graduate students as well as recently minted phds and post-docs, we will explore the practical and theoretical challenges of transitioning from academic anthropology to work in industrial or design ethnography. The purpose of the workshop is provide an overview of differences between the two modes of ethnographic research as well as to offer practical suggestions for those interested in pursuing careers in industry, design, or “alt-ac” ethnography more broadly. Drawing on David’s experience as an intern with Adobe’s XD Studio design team, as the first “team anthropologist” for an experimental products group (an “internal incubator” in the words of the group’s product manager), as well as Adobe Design’s Senior Experience Research Lead Sharma Hendel’s nearly 20 years in the industry (at both Adobe and Microsoft), the workshop will be comprised of structured and unstructured components. The structured piece (30 minutes) will be lead by Sharma Hendel, and be comprised of a tutorial type overview of “best practices” for successfully transitioning from academic anthropology to ethnographic research roles in organizations like Adobe.

Sharma will address interviewing methods, recruitment, survey screeners, user testing, and the challenges (and fruits) of interfacing with engineers, designers, and product managers, who may or may not recognize the value and purpose of qualitative, ethnographic research. Sharma will also underscore the importance of visual communication and powerpoint presentations (“decks” in corporate parlance) in particular, a medium with conventions and standards quite distinct from the peer-reviewed journal article. Sharma will end by covering the importance of speed (“iteration”) to industrial research and the differences (and overlaps) between the “scientific method” (broadly construed) and the iterative design feedback loop. David will conclude the tutorial by quickly sharing some of his experiences at Adobe and addressing some of the challenges he faced in transitioning from 3+ years of dissertation fieldwork on the autism community to project focused design ethnographic work with XD Studio. In particular, David will address his struggles distilling his ethnographic “data” into the deck format and communicating effectively to designers and managers without recourse to anthropological jargon. The final component of the workshop (15 minutes) will be an unstructured question and answer session which will allow participants the opportunity to ask more specific question about industrial ethnography and, as a group, to continue critically investigating differences between this kind of work and academic inquiry.

Threeing: Incorporating “Relational Circuits” into the Ethnographic Encounter
(hosted by Karl Mendoca and Morgan Russell)
In the field of design research, the ethnographic field visit is no longer a solo, intimate encounter between the researcher and her subject(s). More often than not, it is a choreographed event that involves the participation of a broader milieu of stakeholders and team members that span a gamut of roles and hierarchies. The active participation of “non-ethnographers” in the research process has been both championed and an area of scrutiny and reservation. In the pro-participation camp, we have arguments that emphasize the value of embodied knowledge over synthesized reports. Conversely, we hear about a fair number of risks that need to be mitigated in the form of cautionary tales, where “non-ethnographers” have unwittingly broken basic protocols by speaking over research subjects or hi-jacked an interview.

While adequate preparation with stakeholders is key for both camps, a deeper analysis of the configuration between the “ethnographer,” “research participant” and “non-researcher” is typically of secondary importance to the methodological imperative. In short, there is surprisingly little attention paid to the question of group dynamics, so to speak. Designed for artists, ethnographers, educators and designers, this lecture demonstration will introduce the idea of a “relational circuit” elaborated by video artist and cybernetician Paul Ryan based on semiotician Charles Pierce’s three modes of being (firstness, secondness and thirdness), as one possible theoretical model to address this lacuna. Ryan’s “three person solution” is unique in that it seeks to provide a “non-competitive and asymmetric” approach to collaboration that is fluid, where participants are able to navigate between roles using props and rules. The practice of “threeing” is both engaging and fun, in that the flow of conversation and activity builds towards collectively generated insights that allow for collaboration without conflict.

avatar for Shaheen Amirebrahimi

Shaheen Amirebrahimi

Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology, University of California, Davis
I'm an Anthropology Ph.D. candidate at the University of California Davis - partnered with the Institute for Social Sciences and STS wing - writing up my thesis on the emergence and invention of User Experience in Silicon Valley. I spent three years conducting fieldwork as a UX researcher... Read More →

avatar for Sharma Hendel

Sharma Hendel

Senior Design Strategist, Lead, Adobe Systems, Inc
After completing a PhD and postdoctoral fellowship in Cognitive Neuropsychology, I promptly left academia in pursuit of an industry job that would incorporate my love of science and psychology while engaging in the fast-paced world of technology. Sixteen years later, I lead an expanding... Read More →
avatar for Karl Mendonca

Karl Mendonca

PhD Student in Film and Digital Media, University of California, Santa Cruz
Karl Mendonca is an experimental filmmaker and new media artist interested in participatory cultures and alternative media networks in South Asia. He has produced work across a variety of media and has shown at diverse venues including the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, InLight... Read More →
avatar for David Platzer

David Platzer

Ph.D. Candidate in Medical Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
David is Phd candidate in anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. His dissertation research investigates the application of social design to the field of autism employment. In addition to this research, David has also worked with Adobe’s XD Studio Design unit and The King’s... Read More →
avatar for Morgan Russell

Morgan Russell

Designer, Goodreads - Amazon
Morgan is a designer and researcher at Amazon - Goodreads. Her work as a UX designer and researcher is centered on the foundation of empathy, de-emphasizing the digital and emphasizing the emotional and meaningful. Morgan considers how humor and improv function as valuable roles in... Read More →

Friday October 28, 2016 12:00pm - 1:50pm PDT
MCC 201