We often spend time people watching, and if that’s one of your favourite activities then you’ll enjoy this assignment. Observation of people, rather than things, is important in understanding design – too often we tend to focus on objects while ignoring their effect, or how they are used.
This assignment is very open. It is intended to make you feel a little lost – but the answers are in the things we’ve talked about in lectures and in the things we’ve asked you to read. So if you’ve been doing the work, you should be okay.
(NB If this assignment makes you feel too uncomfortable, talk to a module tutor straight away and we’ll work something out).
Activity 3A: Before you begin – read through some Service Design Tools
The website servicedesigntools.org lists several tools for doing design research (which extend beyond just service design, as you’ll see).
Spend some time reading through the examples and case studies and try to identify some that would have been useful on one or two of the studio projects you’ve carried out this year. Write a quick blog entry (or more) describing the tool and how you would have applied it to a project.
In particular, look at The Trainride
From these you can see some ways in which designers use the research techniques you’ve been using so far this semester and you should also be able to see that although the context here is "service design", they apply just as well to your own discipline.
The rest of this assignment is not about Service Design (though it could be if you wanted it to be). Rather, it is simply about the tool of observation.
Activity 3B: And just to make sure, read the "Ethnography Primer"
Read this passage from The Ethnography Primer:
"What people say is not what they do.
Great design always connects with people. Designers inspire, provoke, validate, entertain and provide utility for people. To truly connect, designers need to have compassion and empathy for their audiences. Designers need to understand the relationship between what they produce and the meaning their product has for others. And they need to observe the people they are designing for in their own environments.
Ethnography informs design by revealing a deep understanding of people and how they make sense of their world."
In the next assignment you’ll get a chance to talk to someone in depth about design, but for this one you won’t talk to anyone, you’ll simply observe. Before you do that, download and read the Ethnography Primer. It won’t take long, and will give you a quick overview of the technique.
Ethnography is not easy, and what you’ll be doing on this assignment doesn’t even scratch the surface (and in some ways isn’t really ethnography as we’re not being particularly scientific about it) but it is useful. So useful, in fact, that you should be getting in to the habit of snooping, observing, listening and asking questions as part of your everyday activities. Why are they wearing that? Why did they choose that packet of detergent and not the other one? Why are they staring so hard at the timetable? What do they think they are doing with him?
There are a couple of aspects to this assignment. The first is to "observe reality" (see pages 18-19 of The Primer) and the second is to revisit something Pierre Bourdieu said about why people don’t go to museums.
Have a think about that now – what was it again? If you can’t remember, go back to the chapter or your notes and remind yourself.
The importance of "rules"
Bourdieu suggested that even though galleries and museums are often free, they still do not attract ordinary people because they are uncertain of how they should behave, or what they are supposed to do. In the lecture I asked who you thought went to the Proms and someone said "Hooray Henries" and there was general agreement that you had to dress up to go there. In fact you can go in shorts and t-shirt, and sit on the floor with families, listening to music while reading the paper. But people who go for the first time are often surprised by this.
However, would you know how to behave in a Catholic Mass? Or a Muslim prayer meeting? To those who are brought up surrounded by ceremonies and rituals, they seem quite natural, almost habitual. So habitual, in fact, we might not realise we’re doing them. When Bourdieu said that people who didn’t go to galleries didn’t know how to behave because of their "class" he wasn’t condemning them, he was simply saying we don’t feel comfortable in alien situations.
Have you ever been to a friend’s house and sat very still because you don’t know what the rules are? Been to a pool or gym in a new town and not known where things are? Or been to a restaurant and worried about picking up the wrong fork? It’s all the same thing.
And in this assignment we want you to do that deliberately: be a fish out of water. Feel uncomfortable because you don’t know the rules.
Activity 3C: Observe and record
Choose one of the following locations – you should choose somewhere you have not been before.This will be your primary site and will require some time set aside.
- Bingo Hall
- Football Match
NB You are not being asked to gamble, and you should not do so without setting a limit and sticking to it. You should not place yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, and you should not do this assignment on your own.
Tips: each of these locations is only open at certain times. Bingo halls usually have a "free" night – but do you have to become a member beforehand? Football matches take place usually once a fortnight, but there are two teams in Dundee (assuming you go to a home match) And the casino will have quiet nights when it might be best to go.
If you go with someone who knows their way around, do not let them guide you. Figure it out for yourself.
You can also choose one or more of these. These are your secondary sites and you should be able to do them as part of your everyday activities.
- Low-end retail outlet selling items related to your discipline
- High-end retail outlet selling items related to your discipline
- Shopping centre
- Museum or gallery
- Coffee shop
- Public library
- Bus or railway station
- Others of your choice that you encounter regularly
(You can undertake this activity in your group or with a friend if you wish. If you think of another primary site to observe people, please seek advice from your seminar tutor or Jonathan first)
Having chosen your primary and secondary sites, spend some time there, being careful not to get in the way. For some places, like the retail outlets, you may wish to ask for permission from the manager (see Jonathan for assistance in creating a consent form). For others, like the station, you will probably be waiting for a bus or train yourself so can take advantage of that.
You need to watch people going about their business, observing how they behave. Try to identify any “rules” – for example in a bus station is there an unspoken etiquette about sitting down, or who gets on the bus first? How do people use the screens? How do they interact with staff? How does the way the place is laid out or decorated have an effect? Are there special offers to entice people to play or buy more? Do staff use certain language to put people at their ease, or is it an unfriendly, competitive atmosphere? If you go to the bingo, how do people act during and between games? Do people have their own seats? How are newcomers treated? Are the rules explained? How do you feel?
You need to record your observations and here you must decide what’s appropriate. Photography or video will not be allowed in some situations (shops don’t allow it) but you could be creative (videoing your friend talking to you about what they’re seeing, for example) and you must not annoy anyone or invade their privacy. But try not to “pose” photographs, and don’t take hundreds or arouse suspicion.
In other situations, consider the use of a sketch book to record people and observations. (Use those life drawing skills!) And of course, you should have a note book with you to write thoughts and points.
As you can probably guess, your primary site is the main focus of this assignment. Your secondary site(s) provide practice in observation.
Activity 3D: Discussion
After you’ve observed (and you can do that several times), get together with your group and discuss what you saw, and listen to their experiences. Think beyond the obvious. What did you really see? In a coffee shop you don’t just see people sitting drinking and talking, you see body language, you see service, you see shopping, you see clothes, make-up, jewellery, hair.
Talk about it to other groups or friends and family and see what other observations come up.
This is very open. You need to develop an ability to see things that are normally missed.
Activity 3E: Write it up – and keep doing it
As usual, use your blog to write your thoughts as you do this task (don’t leave it all for one entry). But even after the deadline you should continue to observe everyday life, and the way people live it. Make your notebook and sketchbook your permanent companions – no need to worry about artistic perfection, stick men will do if you notice something interesting (like someone struggling to work out how to use a vending machine, for example).
Become an observer and use the skills you developed in assignment 1, and your reasoning skills from assignment 2.
What we’re looking for
We want to see evidence that you are able to glean insights from your observations. If you simply repeat what you did, and what you saw, you won’t get a very good grade. But if you notice details that tell you something about other people’s lives or behaviour, or spot how a subtle (or not so subtle) piece of design or interaction makes a difference, you’ll be on your way.
We’re especially looking for signs that you are linking what you’re doing in the assignment to things we’ve asked you to read, to things that have been covered in lectures, and to the set text "Change by Design" (which you should have read by now). Don’t force it – you could get Bourdieu, Gosling, Barthes, Simmel, Veblen and Brown in here if you wanted, but don’t drop names like you’re throwing confetti. Show you understand.
Have everything up on your blog by noon on 7 March