Posts tagged “challenge”

Michael’s War Story: All About Face (Sichuan Adventures)

Michael. B Griffiths is the Director of Ethnography for Ogilvy & Mather, Greater China.

I’m in Sichuan province, at a small town called Anxian. I’m with a US film producer and a Chinese research assistant. We are documenting lower-tier city lifestyles in terms of the human condition as well as how people consume. We’ve just finished up our morning session with a man who shared emotional stories about the impact of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

We were operating in two groups, doing home visits at different sites. It was time to pick up the other team from the town center and head off to Mianyang, our next destination.

But the other team called in late. There was a problem. The primary informant’s mother had returned home and reacted badly to their presence. While we didn’t have the details at this point, it seemed that the team could not easily leave the field site. On the phone, I could hear an intense argument in the background.

I had the driver park up around the corner from the site. The junior member of the team came round to meet us, shaking her head and heaving with frustration. Apparently the situation in the home had turned nasty and the senior member was trying to deal with it.

The primary informant, aged nineteen, had not told her mother about our research, although she had given us her formal consent. And now her mother was furious with her daughter for not seeking permission, and worse, she suspected us of being cheats or swindlers. We later learned she had been the victim of an identity-theft crime in similar circumstances.

An hour and more passed without a resolution. It seemed ridiculous that we were wasting so much time on this. Could we not just explain the situation, apologize for the inconvenience, and leave? I was inclined to intervene in person but various team members advised that a foreigner’s presence might exacerbate an already inflammatory situation.

Another phone call came through-

The argument was by now on the street outside the home. The mother was ferociously lashing out and forcibly preventing the senior team member from leaving. Concerned for her safety, I advised that she run around the corner and come over to the car – the site was only 30 meters away.

Once in the car, I proposed that we just leave. We had done nothing wrong, and were increasingly sure this fractious episode was symptomatic of a pre-existing tension between the mother and daughter. Right?

Right! So, let’s hit it, driver!

We sped off in the direction of the Mianyang highway.

As we cut through the breeze with the sun in our faces, the team members answered rapid-fire questions and shared their perspectives as they eased themselves out of the tension. We thought we were home free.

Not by a long shot.

Not long had passed before our phones started to ring. Representatives of the local recruitment agency with which we had partnered were with the enraged mother and phoning to ascertain our whereabouts. This was the agency who had recruited the daughter for our research and I wondered why it seemed beyond their capacity to handle the communication deficit.

We agreed that our overall objectives demanded that we press on with our schedule. Too much time had been wasted and we were quite clear were we stood in terms of our legal agreement with the informants; the local recruitment agency were better placed and, as we saw it, obligated to resolve any misunderstanding about our identity and purposes.

As solution, we agreed that the rest of the team would switch off their phones while I would use my phone to call the recruitment agency bosses we dealt with back in Shanghai headquarters. Better to have just one channel of communication open rather than several at the same time.

This we did, but before any intervention could be launched our driver started to get the same calls from the local recruitment agency. One of our team took the call on the driver’s phone and tried to explain our position on the situation and that we just wanted to continue with our schedule. The agency had also helped us plan for further research in Mianyang and Chengdu, so they were well aware of our tight schedule.

If only the situation could have been so simple! Our driver insisted on keeping his phone switched on since this made him available should his employer need to call. Presumably alerted by the local agency representatives, the driver’s employer did call and insisted he return to Anxian at once. We were unwilling to return with him since we were sure that the two hour return journey would be followed by further time wasted on senseless arguing. Could the situation not be resolved via the proper channels?

Unfortunately, the driver’s open line of communication meant that he could be contacted by people other than his boss. He began to get calls from an unfamiliar number over and over again.

Perhaps the driver should switch his phone off too!?

Then the real shock came.

What? The Public Security Bureau was on the phone? The mother had called the police before we had left. We had left the mother baying for our blood in the street and now the police had arrived to find us gone!

Things went rapidly downhill from here, as arguments erupted about what to do next. Returning to the site would not be an option, the local staff felt, since we would get in trouble for leaving the scene. My explaining things to the local police would not help either, they felt, since the police would not “take my side” because I was a foreigner. Any interaction with the police was bound to be long and protracted anyway, and there was also some notion about market researchers needing to obtain local police permission in advance, which the local recruitment agency had neglected to mention!

Tempers flared and leadership was called for. But leadership on this project was the same woman who got into the argument with the mother in the first place. She now called her father in a panic!

The idea that the police were actually pursuing us over this seemed ridiculous but it was very real. We were still driving up the highway away from Anxian, and with visions of flashing blue lights at every intersection it felt like we were on the run from the law.

It was decision time: the driver had to return to Anxian and could not avoid answering his phone when the police called. We asked him to pull in at a remote roadside restaurant and unload our bags. He would remain with us to get some lunch; it was late afternoon already. Then he would return to Anxian and his boss would send an alternative driver to take us onto Mianyang.

We ate a meal and for a while believed the heat in the situation had burned itself out. I called in to update our superiors. Apparently, the bosses at the recruitment agency were starting to get a handle on it. There was still disagreement about our next move, but at least the police were not calling us every few minutes. They were probably having lunch too.

With our phones all back on and the driver gone, the police began calling us directly. Several hours had passed since the original incident and the mother’s demands had become more specific: she wanted the tapes we had recorded in her home. This presented a problem for our research and our film producer was particularly against this: his movie would be incomplete without these tapes. Moreover, even if we returned the tapes to the mother, she the professional format meant she wouldn’t be able to play them.

Our conversations thus became more practical and technical as the police sought to broker a mutually satisfactory solution to the problem. An agreement was struck whereby the majority of the team would proceed to Mianyang while two personnel would return to Anxian with the tapes and play these for the mother at the local police station.

It was well into the evening when we arrived in Mianyang, about the same time as our team representatives arrived back in Anxian. After a torrid day, they had to sit and play through the entire 4 hours of footage for the purposes of the mother’s verification. With the police there with her, she gradually adjusted herself to the idea we were not crooks or foreign spies and found a way to climb down from her rage whilst saving face.

Exhausted, we spared a thought for the daughter who was probably going to get the raw end of whatever remaining anger could not now be justifiably directed anywhere else. Our analysis of the film footage revealed a wealth of insights into a specific tension between the daughter’s almost angelic nature and her mother’s oppressive, almost ogre-ish nature. It appeared our fieldwork had exposed an underlying tension after all.

Breakfast of Champions

Last Friday we opened our doors to a few superheroic leaders from Silicon Valley firms for a morning discussion about championing user research within an organization (thus “Breakfast of Champions”). This event came hot on the heels of Steve’s recent webinar and provided a learning forum for us as consultants and for our guests, who shared insights and questions from the client perspective.

The discussion included trials and triumphs, questions about current challenges, and new frameworks to yield as tools for overcoming obstacles.  We were impressed with the humility and willingness to share evident in the discussion as research champions from diverse departments, companies, and industries swapped war stories and provided each other with encouragement and new ideas.

I captured some of the conversation on our whiteboard. On the left side are successes, questions and ponderings in the middle, and current challenges on the right. See a bigger image here.

We covered a lot of ground during two hours so the list below is not exhaustive, but it does start to hint at the themes that came up.

  • The importance of measuring, benchmarking, and storying research successes
  • The value of taking non-researchers (especially skeptics and critics) into the field
  • The challenge of confronting organizational paradigms and questioning sacred ‘truths’ when framing research questions
  • Success with embedding research in the design process as opposed to making it a distinct, standalone project
  • Overcoming obstacles of apathy with insights that are action-ready and and deliverables that are easy to share
  • Thinking strategically about the relationship between quant and qual, and considering how they feed each other
  • The value of research in corporate strategy and business solutions and the need to frame it as such
  • The changing role of the consultant and research provider
  • The importance of show and tell of research results to various groups, departments, etc.

This was our first time doing something like this and we’re looking forward to doing it again in the near future!

Announcing the IxD12 Student Challenge

Jeremy Yuille and I are the co-chairs for the 2012 Student Design Challenge, working with Thomson Reuters and the IxDA.

Entries are open now, and close on December 5 December 9, 2011. Be in the running to win a scholarship to Interaction 12 in Dublin, and take part in an exciting design challenge around the future of news.

The challenge theme for 2012 is Design the Future of News. We’re in a time of upheaval over how we stay informed. People follow breaking news via Twitter. Tablets, mobile phones, paywalls, RSS feeds, viral videos and other elements have found their way into the current news landscape. The experience has swollen far beyond the icons of the daily newspaper on your doorstep and the 6 o’clock newscast.

We know that people are consuming news differently, and these emerging practices are changing the news.

What is the future of the news? What do we even mean by “the news” anyway?

This year, Thomson Reuters and the IxDA challenge you to look beyond the forms of delivery to address the behaviors, interactions, and goals that surround news.

We want you to explore the interaction design implications of questions such as:

  • What are people trying to achieve with news?
  • How do we identify that a particular story is important or relevant?
  • What is the relationship between the different types of information that currently make up “news" (e.g., entertainment, local, breaking news, weather, data, etc.)
  • What is the potential for emerging trends in how news is produced, from hyperlocal to citizen journalism?

The challenge is open to current students and anyone who has graduated in 2011. It runs in two stages: an online entry (see how to enter) followed by an on-site masterclass and design challenge at Interaction’12 in Dublin.

See http://interaction12.ixda.org/student-challenge for more information on the prizes, judges and how to enter.

Constriction to force ourselves to create

Jack White speaks about choosing constraints over efficiency in order to drive creativity and create a better result. Taken from the documentary The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights.

Ten years later, just working in the same box you think “God!” One part of my brain says I’m tired of trying to come up with things in this box but I force myself to do it because I know something good can come of it if I really work inside of it. Inspiration, work ethic, they ride right next to each other. When I was an upholsterer, sometimes you’re not inspired to reupholster an old chair, sometimes it’s just work and you just do it because you’re supposed to. Maybe by the end when you’re finished you look at it and say “That looks good, that’s pretty good” and that’s it and you move on and that’s it. Not every day of your life are you going to wake up and the clouds are going to part and the rays from heaven are going to come down and you’re going to write a song from it. Sometimes you just get in there and force yourself to work and maybe something good will come out of it.

One of the things was, whether we like it or not we’ll write some songs and record them. Force yourself into it. Force yourself – book only 4 or 5 days in the studio and force yourself to record an album in that time. Deadlines and things make you creative but opportunity and telling yourself “Oh, you’ve got all the time in the world, all the money in the world. You’ve got all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want” – that just kills creativity. On stage, I’m using the same guitars on stage that I used ten years ago. I like to do things to make it really hard on myself. For example, if I drop a pick, to get a another pick I have to go all the way to the back of the stage to get another one. I don’t have picks taped to my microphone stand. I put the organ just far away enough that I have to leap to get to it play different parts of the song. It’s not handy to jump from one thing to the next. I always try to push it just a little farther away so I have to work harder and get somewhere. That way, everything, all that stuff, all those little things – there’s hundreds of those things like that – Those guitars I use don’t stay in tune very well, they are not conducive, they are not what regular bands go out and play. I’m constantly fighting all these tiny little things, ’cause all those things build tension. There’s no setlist when we play, that’s the biggest one too, Each show has its own life to it. It’s important to do that kind of stuff.

When you go out and everything is all pre-planned and everyone sets everything out for you and the table is all set and nice and perfect nothing is gonna happen. You’re going to go out and do this boring arena set or something. So that’s why all those things have always been a big component of The White Stripes. Constriction to force ourselves to create. Only having red, white and black colors on any of the artwork or presentation of aesthetics of the band, guitar drums and vocals, storytelling melody and rhythm, revolving all these things around the number three, all these components force us to create.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • IST2010ENG/ EDEBIYAT / 40 Districts 40 Books by 40 Authors: ‘My Istanbul’ series at Tüyap 2009… – My Istanbul is a monumental project of 40 books in which 40 distinguished authors told their own districts.

    40 authors born and lived in Istanbul wrote their own feelings, thoughts and memories in their own style about 40 districts of Istanbul for this project originated from the idea that every district has a different story, a different identity and a different spirit.

    Realized in cooperation with Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Literature Directorate and Heyamola Publications the project ‘My Istanbul’ will display Istanbul’s recent history by the words of witnesses while each district is being re-interpreted by sui generis views of the authors.

  • Jake Cressman – Part of the Hot Studio team that won the Portigal Consulting/Core77 1-Hour Design Challenge! Congrats, Jake!
  • CONGRATS: Hot wins ‘The Future of Digital Reading’ design challenge – Designers + Beer = Fun: Late on a Friday afternoon, a group of Hot’s designers and a good-natured friend gathered in Hot’s biggest conference room. We spread books of all sizes out on the conference table, salty and sweet snacks in every corner, and several six packs of beer on ice. What more could you need? We watched segments from Portigal Consulting’s video where they outlined their findings, and paused a few times to discuss amongst ourselves. After we got comfortable with the background material, we divided into a couple teams, each focusing on a different approach

    The winning SuperFlyer concept came from a collaboration of Shalin Amin, Holly Hagen, Leslie Kang, and our buddy Jake Cressman.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Amazon adds over 18,000 free public domain titles to Kindle Store – "It would have been nice if Amazon had thought of this tactic before launching the Kindle. But the rapid growth of the public domain library in the Kindle store is more likely a response to the fact that Sony eBook readers can access Google's massive collection of scanned public domain works. So while Amazon's 18,000 public domain downloads are a good start, Google has over half a million titles, which means Amazon still has some catching up to do."
  • Phil Patton asks about Google’s book scanning process – Nowhere in Google’s FAQs or anywhere else is there a clear answer to the question of how books are physically scanned. Whether the books are disassembled in the process of scanning. What measures are taken to avert damage to scanned books, especially to older, more fragile ones with dry bindings and acidic paper. What sort of action readers or authors can take if they encounter errors in the scanning, dating or classification.
  • One Hour Design Challenge: The Future of Digital Reading — School of Visual Arts — MFA in Interaction Design – Interaction Design students teamed up to participate in the One Hour Design Challenge: The Future of Digital Reading for Jason Santa Maria’s Communicating Design Class.

Sigh

I participate in several online forums about design. I’ve spent my whole career working with designers and hearing a lot of bullshit about what design is and what it can do. There’s increasing awareness of global issues and a desire to understand the rest of the world and less of the posturing about how design can save the world etc. but today someone posted this gem: To me, industrial Designs and their instructors are the true leaders of a culture.

Choke. Cough. Splutter.

Gve me a break!

That anyone can write that with a straight face tells you some of the problems facing that industry.

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