epic   A big surprise when attending the EPIC 2008 conference was the lack of talk around the next stages beyond ethnographic research. The academic stance was accompanied by representatives of large corporations, though it felt mainly a concentration on the methods and findings of ethnographic praxis.

Something is missing – Invisible?
The problem for me is that this is not enough, especially for a conference that touts itself as being about ethnographic practice in industry.

The big disconnect was, that there were no examples of how to take findings on to the next level. That of synthesising the information gained, into taking ideas through to the design stage.

That crucial ingredient was missing and symbolises the problems that we have within the design community. Its fine showing ethnography in industry but how is it used and taken forward to warrant its use and expense?


Data visualisation and messy magic
This formulation period is so valuable and its typically the one stage that receives the least publicity. There is a good reason for this; it is abstract and difficult to conceptualise.  Visualisation of the findings is  a key part to the success of transferal from research to design.

We work in linear, sequential patterns through minutes and hours but in design practice this line is never straight. It is iterative, and messy. You can not draw a process other than an ambiguous spiral. This ambiguity often makes design firms impenetrable and their methods weird science.


Potential points of failure
Every time work is passed on there is a potential point of failure. Getting through to the other side – carrying forward findings without losing the point of the project has to be the focus of the research team. Organisations that enable this passage of data minimising points of failure (typically the hand over) are the ones who enjoy most success.


How do companies achieve success?
By encouraging collaborative working with professionals from multi-disciplinary backgrounds there is common understanding in each other’s working methods. This enables professionals to drift between roles in the organisation and allows them to be bridges between camps. There is a massive need for these types of professionals who have a background in a different area to the one they currently operate in. Allowing a more perceptive and empathetic work group.



The best tool in the research box?
I personally believe from a UX perspective that ethnography is the best tool to gain deep insights that other tools cannot cover.

Though it was an enjoyable conference one feeling remains – all tools need to be used with others to get a job done well. The belief that you are the only tool in the box, is insular and potentially damaging to the profession. Surely its time to be aware of and explore the work of others in the field of design?

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