Interview with Steve posted on Ethnography Matters
By Steve Portigal at 8:28 am, Thursday May 09 2013

Here’s an interview with me at Ethnography Matters. We talked about the book, the writing process and other aspects of how interviewing users is playing out in the corporate world.

EM: How much heterogeneity is there between companies / clients? Are there any broad typological characterizations of companies and their attitude towards user research? Does this inform different ways of delivering research results, different ways of “talking to” these companies?

SP: There are no doubt dozens of frameworks (see for example, Jess McMullin’s Design Maturity Model on page 142) for characterizing the organization. But let me throw out a new one: in the Passover Haggadah there is the example of the four sons. One wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question. The wise son asks to have all of the history, insight and other findings explained to him. We’re encouraged to explain everything to him. The wicked son separates himself from the issue by asking why it’s important to you. We’re told to tell him why it’s important to us (and not persuade him that it should be important to him). The simple son doesn’t even focus in on the issue and just asks “What is this?” so we’re to give him the headline. We’re told to approach the son who doesn’t even know how to ask a question and take the initiative to explain things to him. And one scholar writes about a fifth son who isn’t even in the room and it’s up to us to seek him out and give him the lowdown.

Sure, it may be a bit forced but it’s not hard to see those sons as archetypes of individuals, departments or entire workplace cultures. Whatever your framework is, you obviously need to understand the specifics of who you are dealing with and have a range of approaches for responding. All of this stuff with people (be they clients or research subjects) is messy and I’m not so comfortable with pre-emptive categorization and its resultant tactical choices.

Thanks to Tricia Wang and Jenna Burrell and everyone else at Ethnography Matters for a great discussion.

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