Posts tagged “interpretation”

Pattern-recognition is crucial for sense-making

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theartofscientificinvestigation


Excerpting from a great post…The Art of Observation and How to Master the Crucial Difference Between Observation and Intuition [Brain Pickings] – Highlights from a 1957 book by Cambridge University professor W. I. B. Beveridge come from the era of the scientific method but are broadly applicable to creative, innovative, design-thinking approaches to problem solving.

Ultimately, Beveridge argues that the art of observation depends on developing the capacity for pattern-recognition, which in turn relies on a broad pool of networked knowledge that allows you to spot the piece that doesn’t fit: “In carrying out any observation you look deliberately for each characteristic you know may be there, for any unusual feature, and especially for any suggestive associations or relationships among the things you see, or between them and what you know. – Most of the relationships observed are due to chance and have no significance, but occasionally one will lead to a fruitful idea.”

Debbie’s War Story: Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

Retired from HP, Debbie Mrazek shares her story about not knowing she she was getting a little too much attention in the field.

Many years ago, when international “day in the life” visits were not common in my company, I led a study to better understand technology usage in typical homes.

As a US-based team, when we spent time with a European family, we typically included a translator and local researcher in the team. Each visit started with getting to know the family over a meal that we brought with us. We then toured the home and divided into smaller groups in order to spend focused time with each family member.

During a visit with an upscale German family, I was interviewing the very friendly and excited older teenage son. He very enthusiastically showed me every gadget, software program and PC trick he knew. He was constantly trying to impress me with his technical skills and knowledge, speaking in a mixture of German and English. The interpreter did her best to help me understand the boy’s key points, but I continued to notice that both she and the local researcher were exchanging knowing smiles. Eventually, the mother joined us and graciously suggested that the son had “bothered the poor girl” (me) enough, and we should join the rest of the family for coffee.

During our post-visit debrief, it was revealed that the interpreter was strategically not translating some of the boy’s most blatantly flirtatious comments, leaving me unaware that this was even happening. While typically I think the translation should be unbiased and accurate, in this case her careful filtering was a good thing. It allowed me to focus on watching how he used the technology…but it did make for plenty of teasing from my colleagues during the rest of the trip!

Fumiko’s War Story: Goodbye cruel world

Design researcher Fumiko Ichikawa offers this devastating tale about losing face.

In May 2008, I coordinated what I call an inspiration study concerning healthy eating. What do Japanese people eat and drink? Why? Is there a particular tradition or habit that people have developed around eating? How are the perceptions of eating and health related in Japanese culture? My mission was to make sure that my client’s researchers had all the exposure they could imagine around how Japanese people buy, cook, and eat, through interviews, observations, and own experiences.

One day, our interview took place in the residential area of East Kanagawa, an hour-and-a-half from Tokyo. Our informant was a housewife in her late 40s. She expressed a clear preference about her choice of vegetables, for the sake of the wellbeing of her husband and two children. She offered us pickled vegetables and soft bamboo shoots, all homemade and requiring time and dedication to prepare. She also allowed us to see what is inside her refrigerator, which some would consider a brave act, as many housewives whom I met considered this far more private than their bedroom or toilet!

The interview went fairly well. She was very relaxed and open, and I felt that we got more than what we came for. But there was one minor glitch: the interpreter we hired was not quite the person we hoped her to be.

The interpreter came from an agency, arranged by my fellow researcher. An hour before the interview she appeared at the meeting point and we had a chat. She was a lady in her late 30s with a soft, elegant smile. Dressed in a white jacket with a stitched Camellia flower, she appeared to me to be very sophisticated. The way she spoke to us prior to the interview was soft but confident, and until the actual interview started, I had no doubts.

As the interview progressed, I noticed that my clients appeared confused. The interpretation concentrated on facts and did not convey the emotion and the passion that we were clearly seeing from the housewife, with her big smiles and gestures. Thirty minutes passed by and after some struggle, my client asked in a very polite way that the interpreter stop. From that point on, the client asked the questions, and I became the interpreter. This change of setup was done quite discreetly, and I do not think that the housewife noticed much.

Dismissing someone on the spot is not an easy thing. It is awkward and challenging. But I felt my client addressed the matter in a very professional way. After we left the informant’s home, I saw that my client stepped away from the rest of the group and approached the interpreter, to talk with her about why she had done that. From a distance, the interpreter appeared calm. I assumed that despite the situation, she took things well.

Soon after this interview the study was complete and my clients went back to the States. But four days later, in the middle of the night, I received an international call: it was my client. I called her back. She told me that she received an email from that interpreter and I should read this as soon as possible. In the email, the interpreter has written eloquently about how humiliated she was on that day. This email was in fact a suicide note, telling us “I have no choice but to kill myself.”

I felt like someone had hit my head real hard. There was a tremendous rush of anxiety, anger, and confusion. How could this happen? What did we do wrong? Why is she reacting this way? Despite of the odd hours, we frantically called her and her agency. After three or four hours we confirmed there was nothing wrong with her. We learned it was simply her way of expressing her anger and making sure we felt sorry for her.

“Lip! Lip my stockings!” a Japanese call girl shouts in the film Lost in Translation, as she forces the American celebrity actor played by Bill Murray to ‘rip’ her stockings in his hotel room. The combination of an exposure to foreign culture and the wrong interpretation can generate confusion, frustration, and often times, laughter. But on that day, it was mostly confusion that the experience brought me. Sometimes we experience foreignness in our own culture.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Dissident Creates by Remote Control [NYT.com] – Of course this is a political act as much as an artistic or commercial one (and some art theorist can probably explain why it must always be all three, yes?) but this seemed a novel application of remote collaboration software, at least in the way they’ve framed it.

In an unusual collaboration with W magazine, Ai Weiwi created a story line for a series of photos that were shot on location in New York by the photographer Max Vadukul as Mr. Ai looked on, art directing via Skype on a laptop computer. Mr. Vadukul would set up a shot and look to Mr. Ai for approval. “We could see him on the screen, scrolling through the images,” Ms. Solway said. “What was so interesting was his attention to every detail. There was this big shower in Rikers – we thought it looked very dingy, but he said the grout was way too clean and graphic.”

Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence [NYT.com] – While the whole article primarily deals with the decisions that financial professionals make (scary scary stuff), the principles on judgement and decision-decision making feel sound, if challenging.

You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do.

Personal Eco-Concierges Ease Transition to Green [NYT.com] – Last year we did a research project that looked at “going green” as a journey. We met people at various stages along that transition and what their decisions were like at each of those stages. No surprise to see businesses appear explicitly aimed at facilitating the steps along that journey; indeed we identified other products and services that were or could speak to that goal – beyond usage to growth.

“The problem with going green is that people think it takes so much work, so much effort, so much conscious decision-making,” said Letitia Burrell, president of Eco-Concierge NYC, a year-old business in Manhattan that tries to make it easy for people to rid their homes of toxins, hire sustainable-cuisine chefs and find organic dry cleaners. It is a niche business, but a clever one. At least a half-dozen services of this type have sprung up around the country in recent years, both to help time-starved consumers manage their lives and to assuage the guilt of those who worry that they are letting the planet down. “There are people who come to us gung-ho and they want to make a sweeping lifestyle change,” said P. Richelle White, who left a corporate advertising job four years ago to start Herb’n Maid, a green cleaning and concierge service in St. Louis. “These are busy professionals who don’t have the time to do the research themselves about different products and services.”

Sexy, religious images spotted on new money [CBC News] – Getting feedback to designs before going to press is proven once again to be a good idea. Seems like a great application of a focus group, since the feedback needed is shallow and not very nuanced, although interesting to note that the social dynamics of a focus group limit the naturalness of that feedback – so much so that it made it into the report!

The Bank of Canada fretted that Canadians would find all kinds of unintended images on the new bills. So the bank used focus groups to spot “potential controversies.” “The overall purpose of the research was to disaster check the $50 and $100 notes among the general public and cash handlers,” says a January report to the central bank. Almost every group thought the see-through window looked like a woman’s body, but participants were often shy about pointing it out “However, once noted, it often led to acknowledgment and laughter among many of the participants in a group.” On the other side of the bill, there’s an image of a researcher at a microscope and a depiction of the double-helix structure of DNA. But the DNA strand evoked something else. A Vancouver focus group thought it was “a sex toy (i.e., sex beads).” Others thought it was the Big Dipper. There was no mistaking the microscope, but when focus groups flipped over the bill they noticed the edge of the instrument showed through like a weird birthmark on Borden’s cheek. Respondents also thought the former prime minister was either cross-eyed or that each eye was looking off in a different direction, the report says “Others felt that the PM’s moustache is unkempt.” Every focus group thought they saw religious iconography on the face of the Peace Tower clock. “It was often described as ‘The Star of David.’ Others referred to it as a ‘pagan’ or ‘religious’ symbol,'” the document says-Bank of Canada spokeswoman Julie Girard said the bills got tweaked after the focus groups. “Before and after those focus groups, there were design changes for multiple reasons,” she said.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Is America Mature Enough for This Line Graph of Gay Marriage Poll Results? [VF Daily | Vanity Fair] – [Here's a novel interpretation of a seemingly—ahem—straight-forward infographic; as well as an acknowledgment that your interpretation says as much about yourself as it does about the data.] A new survey of same-sex marriage poll results posted to FiveThirtyEight.com suggests support for gay nuptials is—ahem—on the upswing. As one commenter points out, the site’s statistics overlord, Nate Silver, may also have giggled upon compiling the data: Silver describes a regression line as “fairly sensitive on the endpoints,” which, contextually, is rather raunchy. Do you see a bloated asparagus stalk turned sideways? A close-up of the mouth of a Pac-Man? The tail of a Na’vi? The answer may explain to you your own feelings about same-sex marriage. It’s a Rorschach test of inscrutable accuracy, probably as prescient as the polls themselves.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • FitFlops – the FlipFlop with the Gym Built In – What we girls really need is something like a flip flop that tones and trims our legs while we run errands. We have no free time…We Want a Workout While We Walk!” FitFlop midsoles incorporate patent-pending microwobbleboard ™ technology, to give you a workout while you walk. One woman reported feeling like she’d had a ‘bum-blasting’ workout after a half an hour of FitFlop-shod walking.

    (Thanks to CPT!)

  • Love Land, first sex theme park in China closed before construction completed – Photographs showed workers pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string. The park manager, Lu Xiaoqing, had planned to have on hand naked human sculptures, giant models of genitals, sex technique “workshops” and a photography exhibition about the history of sex. The displays would have included lessons on safe sex and the proper use of condoms. Mr. Lu told China Daily that the park was being built “for the good of the public.” Love Land would be useful for sex education, he said, and help adults “enjoy a harmonious sex life.”
  • Air Traveler Satisfaction Goes Up? Look Beyond The Data – The airline business scored 64 out of 100 in the first quarter of this year, a 3.2% increase over the same period a year ago. Airlines were still among the lowest-scoring businesses in the index, which measured customer satisfaction with the products or services of hotels, restaurants and 14 other sectors. Full-service restaurants scored highest at 84. Airlines scored far below their own index high of 72, achieved in 1994. "It certainly looks like most of these increases, if not all, are due to lower passenger load," says Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan and index founder, noting that the recession has kept many Americans from traveling. The lower number of passengers "means more seat availability, shorter lines, more on-time arrival, fewer lost bags, and all that probably adds up to a slightly higher level of satisfaction." He noted that a reduction in the number of flights offered could erase the slight gains achieved in passenger satisfaction.

Major McCheese

There’s been a lot of interesting discussion recently around personas. Part of what’s really being talked about is how to tell an effective story. As in, one party has information they want to impart to another in a way that is impactful, memorable, makes a good working tool, and can be internalized and passed along to others.

Stefan Nadelman’s animated short, Food Fight, which I discovered over at Drawn, is a virtuosic example of telling a story through alternate means. Nadelman’s film presents a history of major armed conflicts since WWII, using food to represent the conflicting nations. It’s hilarious, touching and thought-provoking, and it made me want a Big Mac.

Food Fight relies on a set of shared reference points to tell its story, and I think it’s useful to keep in mind that the more we use proxies to convey information, the more we are relying on all of the communicating parties having the same set of reference points. That’s why it’s so important in a design process that any type of information vessel be treated not as a static artifact, but as a material that we can work with to clarify interpretations and surface assumptions.

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