Rapid ethnography, brain food and Human-Centred Design from LUMA Institute and PDD | PDD

Rapid ethnography, brain food and Human-Centred Design from LUMA Institute and PDD


on November 14 2011

This past July, the LUMA Institute and PDD conducted a 2-day Human-Centred Design (HCD) Workshop in London. The workshop was not only a great opportunity for the thirteen participants to learn hands-on HCD methods that they could use immediately in their companies, but also a chance for me to focus on two recent obsessions: finding ways to provide meaningful rapid-ethnography experiences, and experimenting with brains.

Designing meaningful rapid ethnography experiences for everyone

The challenge of teaching ethnographically-based methods in a workshop environment is to find an appropriate experience that everyone can understand and empathise with, within a very constrained timeframe. Because the participants in the HCD workshop were from various industries (home appliances, healthcare, defence industry,  skin care , toymakers), played different roles within their companies (marketing, industrial design, interaction design, technology scouting, and business strategy), and had differing levels of knowledge of human-centred design methods, we had to find something that anyone, even those with little or no familiarity with ethnography, could understand.

After much discussion and debate, we finally decided which service and product we wanted the participants to interact with (which I can’t reveal as that would ruin the surprise for the next round of participants). The next challenge was to find a way to make participants’ limited time in the field as valuable as possible. We immersed ourselves in the environment first to uncover the most interesting activities  to focus on, and we also found an amazing field guide who identified the critical stakeholders and clearly and sensitively articulated their very different needs (see Millen’s Rapid Ethnography paper for more on the “research lens” and “key informants”). Using these rapid ethnography methods enabled us to identify the areas and tasks that would yield the most useful, inspiring, and actionable data for our participants.

From the conversations with the participants, as well as the enthusiasm they demonstrated during the fieldwork and in the rapid prototyping and usability testing  exercises , I’d say we succeeded in immersing and inspiring them, and allowing them to empathise with the needs of a specific group of people whom they may never have thought about before.

Featured image from the HCD Workshop: One of the prototypes developed after the rapid ethnography experience ©PDD Group Ltd

The second obsession: experimenting with brains

Brain food, that is. Certain foods can either positively or negatively affect our ability to concentrate, learn new things, and think creatively. Through careful planning of  the menu , we reduced the types of food, such as sweets, white flour, and other processed foods, that cause big fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, which in turn affect energy and attention levels. Yoghurt, nuts, and fresh fruit replaced pastries and bagels for breakfast, whilst whole grains, vegetables, pulses, nuts, and chunks of premium chocolate replaced starchy sandwiches and sugary sweets for lunch. The outcome: very consistent energy and attention levels throughout both days of a very intensive workshop.

Of course, the best reward is knowing that what you taught is useful and relevant. That’s why we were really pleased to hear  feedback  such as: “The course was extremely thorough and gave great insights into tools and applications that can be directly applied with speed and ease into my organisation. Instructors were really knowledgeable and approachable. Best course I have ever attended!” And, “The workshop was very fun, well planned and the leaders showed great enthusiasm which was amazing. I would do the workshop again-I just wish this one could have been longer!”

After 18 intense hours, they want more?! Excellent, I’m already planning the activities and menu for the second workshop.

Links of Interest

Some ideas for conducting rapid ethnography, in David R. Millen’s paper, Rapid ethnography: time deepening strategies for HCI field research: dl.acm.org

Best Brain Foods: 11 Ways Foods Can Help You Think: www.askdrsears.com

Ignite Your Brainpower with the 20 Smartest Foods on Earth: ecosalon.com