What is an ethnographic interview?

Recently a renewed discussion with an important colleague of mine resurfaced the common use of the phrase ‘ethnographic interview.’ We had previously discussed our concern that any old folk would be running around and using the powerful adjective of ‘ethnographic’ without putting any deep ethno power behind the phrase. This weekend I sat down on the dock with Charlie, my dog, and wrote out my thoughts in long hand, hence you’ll have a chance to enjoy the loopy cursive, occasional misspelling, and unedited sentence structures. It is hopefully worth a read, I promise you a twist is in store for those lucky readers who stick it out!

p.s. if it is truly awful to load the scans or difficult to read let me know and I’ll put it on the to-do list to type it up soon 😉


Sid Meier shall be our new leader and we shall call him “Ole’ Wise One.”

Check out the official Civilization 5 Site

In researching a new game preview of Civilization V for Square-Go magazine, which I am lucky enough to be a writer for (here’s my first published review) thanks to my research partner Rachel Shadoan, I found the most enlightening article. Its on kotaku.com, which is a leading gaming news and reviews site (http://kotaku.com/5492078/civilization-creator-explains-why-everything-game-devs-know-is-wrong). The title of the article really says it all, “Civiliztion Creator Explains Why Everything Game Devs is Wrong.”

Here is a great exerpt that really shines with exciting game design ethnographic gold:

Gameplay, he says is a psychological experience. It’s all in our heads. And it makes us egomaniacs. If you play Meier’s Civilization series, in which you’re a god-king tasked with building a society that stand the test of time, you’re an egomaniac.

As a designer, Meier says that game developers need to listen to the player, “what they’re really saying.” It’s our jobs, he says, to understand what causes negative emotions in gamers and strengthen what inspires positive emotions.

What is the point of all this? Meier says that developers are trying to create “the epic journey.” How do we use psychology to make the journey more epic, he wonders. One, interesting decisions, a term that Meier says that are the type that encourage players to envision the future, to contemplate what alternate paths they can take. Learning and progress is fundamental to that journey, that players must feel that they’re evolving

In “the epic journey,” players should be drawn into the “one more turn”

I wonder if I can be useful to you

I’ve been interviewing people throughout the Blogosphere this week. It has been an amazing experience on many levels. It is my first time conducting ethnographic research over the internet and on Monday I conducted my first ever interview over skype. It went swimmingly! I think I just got lucky with a great participant.

Virtual ethnography is a wonderful way to stay in one place physically and yet visit with people all over the globe. It provides us the chance to really expand our exploration and hear some spectacular stories.

I have noticed that many participants do exactly what I do, when researchers come asking for you to be in their study. Whenever I get asked to participate I always say yes, but I always doubt that I will be useful for the research. Its not a self deprecating moment its just kind of a way of creating a disclaimer for whatever information I give them. I don’t want to have wasted anyone else’s time.

Today I had a little eureka moment. In ethnographic work everyone’s opinion counts. It is hyper democratic. You can learn as much from the haters as the lovers. The extreme users and the I’ve-never-touched-it before-in-my-life folks are all equally as important. Ethnographers are story collectors. We are constantly searching for the story that pulls it all together and plugs into the framework. Coincidentally the stories build the framework making this a cyclical and iterative process.

Everyone’s story counts. End of discussion.

Video Vibe

I spent the majority of today creating a short video about myself and my intellectual interests within design ethnography.

Today was filled with plethora of firsts for me. It was the first time I created a video cast of a presentation. It was the first time I recorded and cut together a video on my PC. It was my first time to upload to youtube.com.

It was also my first day of taking boxing lessons, which was great for relieving the frustration and stress I built up while trying to make technology acquiesce to my request to make this video. Sometimes working with computers is part voodoo magic and part logical brilliance. I suppose though figuring out how to do it the first time is the hardest.

Enjoy the video!

Tea Time

Eight days ago was the first day of this new semester for the Masters of Design Ethnography course and the Masters of Design course. On this first day we were split up into teams of two and assigned the task of creating instructions for how to make a cup of tea for someone who does not speak your language.

Cora Albrecht teamed up with me and we were off and running. She thought the best format for our instructions would be a flip-book (a short book where the flipped pages create an animated image). I agreed with her and we sat down to work. We worked quickly and with no conflict. It was clear to us that we had to keep it simple and leave out the words because that would go against the constraint of language. I was immensely pleased with our final effort and Cora’s hand drawings gave the flip-book a nice personal touch. Later Cora photographed our work and set it to music resulting with this lovely video. Enjoy.

I think this was a wonderful example of our quick prototyping abilities and a good way to introduce us to the meaning of Strategic Information Design. It made us immediately consider the complexities that underlie the need for strategic information design and it was fun.