Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

The Art and Science of Design: Interviews with Tom MacTavish, Anijo Mathew and Kim Erwin: Three Professors from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology Talk with Jim Euchner about the Tools of Design Thinking

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

The Art and Science of Design: Interviews with Tom MacTavish, Anijo Mathew and Kim Erwin: Three Professors from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology Talk with Jim Euchner about the Tools of Design Thinking

Article excerpt

The potential of design practice to dramatically increase the success of breakthrough innovation in corporations has been demonstrated by a few leading companies. The tools of design, however, are not yet common practice in most organizations. The set of interviews that follows, with professors from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, offers an overview of three important practices: ethnomethodology, prototyping, and communicating the new. Taken together, they provide a useful primer to design approaches.

There is an art as well as a science to using the tools of design. These interviews provide insight on both.

Tom MacTavish

JIM EUCHNER [JE]: Ethnography is still relatively new as a tool for innovation. What are some of the essentials for people to know about the use of ethnography?

TOM MACTAVISH [TM]: The first thing to know is that it's not really ethnography that we do. Ethnography has its roots in anthropology, in longitudinal studies during which anthropologists lived in cultures and carefully observed lifestyles and patterns of behavior. Its tools have been picked up in the last 15 years or so by the business and design communities.

The term that I use for what we do is ethnomethodology--we use the methods of ethnography, but we don't conduct formal ethnographic studies. Rather than more traditional ethnography, what we do is to conduct more focused studies on people and understand how they make sense of the world.

JE: What are the tools of ethnomethodology?

TM: The first is more of a perspective than a tool. There's a concept in ethnography of point of view. Anthropologists talk about emic perspective, which is the native point of view and etic perspective, or the outsider's point of view. What we try to do in ethnomethodology is find ways to understand the native point of view, if you will, and collect information that helps us understand things that users may not be able to articulate directly.

Another general principle is triangulation. By triangulation, I mean using sources of information from different perspectives that may help understand a particular event or a particular behavior; you can compare across the different sources to get a more objective point of view.

We seek to collect the native point of view without much interference from the observer. So another principle is to find a way to integrate yourself with the people you're observing so they're relaxed and they reveal their more natural selves, rather than relying on an approach that's too structured.

JE: Are there frameworks that you use to help conduct good studies?

TM: There are some good resources. Brian Paulson, who has done work in religious communities, has posted a piece called "A Sample Ethnographic Interview" on the Internet. (1) He breaks questions into three different categories: descriptive questions, structural questions, and contrast questions.

Here is an example of how a series of descriptive questions can help people reveal more about themselves. Say I want to learn about someone's use of mobile phones. I might start by asking, "Could you tell me about your use of your mobile phone during the course of your day? Give me a grand tour of your day." That puts them in the mode of a tour guide and offers a way of discovering touch points about their day. The way they frame the tour and the way they talk about their day will start to reveal the areas they think are most important.

I might follow up with a guided grand tour. Now the question is, "Hey, can you show me? You talked about using the mobile phone every day at breakfast. Can I join you for breakfast and watch you use your mobile phone?" You ask them to show you the things that they talked about so that you get a more intimate understanding of them. Here is where triangulation comes in, trying to see if what they said they did corresponds with what they actually do, because sometimes, people leave out valuable information that they know at a visceral level, but don't know at a cognitive level. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.