Working Backwards to Move Forwards

The last month has consisted of reflection upon my recently completed MSc in design ethnography thesis (see previous post). Yesterday I realized we did not conduct any actual ethnography during our masters thesis. This revelation was induced due to a little help from a great informal critique by Chiara Garattini, whose staunch anthropological academic experience and pragmatic advice was a delight.

The MSc in design ethnography, though named as well as it could be, is still not accurately titled, or to say it more precisely it has metamorphosed into a creature of some much larger scope than initially intended.  We embarked on the course last year as a batch of intrepid individuals with diverse backgrounds. We left it as design researchers set upon strategically plodding forward to change the world and influence decision makers with our work. We didn’t do pure design or ethnography but we did turn ourselves into hybrids ready to span the chasm between the rock and the hard place

What have I learned? What is my takeaway?

I learned what a takeaway is and how in planning any product, service, or activity, we must begin with the takeaway. Start with the endgame and work backward, in order to move forwards.

Simple. Clean. Fun. This is my motto for project management and human relations. The best way to manage a complicated, multi-part, multi-disciplinary project is to cut out the fat, keep things clear, don’t waste resources, and make it fun. Having your whole team working in parallel and facing the same direction is keep to achieve effective outcomes.

Communicate strategically and use the vocabulary your audience is most comfortable using.

Confidence is crucial and empathy and understanding necessary to balance it.

Those are my big picture lessons learned during the Masters. My new approach to problem solving and life philosophy has grown out of the unique and challenging experiences of the last year.

Design, Ethnography, and Global Governance?

I found a great article today at 3quarksdaily titled At the Intersections of Design, Ethnography and Global Governance By Aditya Dev Sood. I highly recommend reading the whole extensive article.

Here is my favorite excerpt:

Both Design and Ethnography require one to look at the world in a visionary way: to see with one’s mind’s eye the subtle and hidden relationships that are not always visible on the surfaces, but discerned in the interaction of people and things. To see the way things are, however, is not precisely the same as to be able to see how they could be. I often think of the ideal dynamic between ethnographers and designers as akin to the heat cycle of the internal combustion engine. For the process to work right, we have to be able to move from people to product and back again, but as of now, we mostly train people to become virtuosos of material-cultural production with an amateur or folk knowledge of culture and social behavior. Or conversely, we train specialists in observing culture, who are painstakingly shy of actually producing new cultural artifacts in the world. To extend the metaphor of the heat cycle, this means that the sum of Design and Anthropology can be plotted as a line that courses back and forth without creating an area, a polygon, corresponding to new value. In the professional sphere, of course, designers and ethnographers do work together to create such value, but they must first learn one another’s languages and ways of working.