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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Observation and participation

One of the (many) criticisms of market research is that it is based on artificial, post-rationalised claimed responses. This line of thinking contends that there have been plenty of studies showing us to be unreliable witnesses to our own thoughts and actions – therefore surveys, focus groups and the like can’t be trusted.

Obviously, the reality is no so black and white. There are some things I can recall perfectly well – places I’ve shopped in the past week, why I like to blog etc. My answers would be truthful, though with the latter example the analysis might not take my literal answer but instead interpret it into a broader motivation.

Nevertheless, what I know I know is only one part of the Johari Window (which was channeled by Donald Rumsfeld for his known knowns speech) – the arena quadrant. For the other three quadrants, these methods are insufficient.

Fortunately, there is more to research than surveys and focus groups.

To slightly paraphrase the hidden quadrant, this would involve a methodology that would provide us with previously unknown information. This can be achieved through participation. IDEO are big proponents of this – I particularly like the example Paul Bennett gives of improving hospital waiting. The best way for them to discover the patient experience was to become the patient and spend a day strapped to a gurney. The view from the gurney is boring ceiling after boring ceiling, so IDEO used this space to provide both information and soothing designs.

The blind spot quadrant is where we battle the unreliable witness through observation. This could either be straight-forward observation or a mixture of observation and participation such as ethnography (remember: ethnography is not an in-home interview). Siamack Salari of Everyday Lives gives the fantastic example of a project he did for a tea company. This tea company had invested a great deal of money in research to understand the different perspectives people had on the perfect cup of tea. For the colour, they had even developed a colour palette outlining varieties. In closed research, people would pick their perfect colour. Yet, when observed, the colour of tea would never match. This is because people don’t concentrate on making the perfect cup of tea – the colour depends on the amount of milk they have left in the fridge and whatever else is capturing their attention (such as the toaster). Valuable information though, as Siamack noted in a training session I attended, an expensive way of finding out the answer you want doesn’t exist.

Thus, two simple examples to show the role of observation and participation in improving our understanding of things. As for the unknown window…

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/colorblindpicaso/3932608472

Koyaanisqatsi and different perspectives

Last night I finally got around to watching Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s classic collaboration with the master of the recursive composition, Philip Glass. It is the first part of a trilogy, with Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi succeeding.

Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word that means (in one translation) “Life Out of Balance”. The central message of the film is fairly simplistic – nature is wondrous and man is destructive – but even the depictions of destruction display a certain beauty and nobility.

What makes it such a classic (and a film I would wholeheartedly recommend) is the cumulative effect that the time-lapse, slow motion and recursive/minimalist soundtrack have on the senses. One can become hypnotised by things we didn’t realise existed. Some of the iconic shots sound simplistic (and stock footage is heavily used) but the excellence is in the execution (as Bret Hart used to say)

  • Cloud movement sped up to resemble waves
  • An atomic bomb exploding in slow motion
  • Video still-life portraits
  • The moon passing behind a skyscraper
  • Nighttime traffic sped up to resemble waves of electricity
  • Flaming debris from the Atlas Rocket circling in the sky

The techniques utilised have been transferred to the world of advertising to great effect. Three examples from music, video games and consumer goods are:

GTA: IV

Ray of Light by Madonna

Dove’s Onslaught


Watching the film has re-iterated a very simple instruction that I try to follow, but invariably don’t.

Look around.

Rather than walk around London with my head down and earphones in, look up. Stop from time to time. Observe. That way I will see something I have never previously noticed.

New observations lead to new ideas. These don’t have to be revolutionary. They do need to display understanding and insight. That requires attention.

One section (movement?) of Koyaanisqatsi focuses on the everyday urban life. Yet it finds beauty through a whole new perspective.

Yesterday, Dave Trott wrote about radical common sense – creative but simple ideas.

Dirt is Gooddespite a backlash – is often held up as a good example of a straightforward yet revolutionary insight.

Ethnography and anthropology are increasingly being used in research to great effect. Just seeing how people live and operate can make a huge difference. Grant McCracken and Jan Chipchase both produce fascinating essays and insights in their respective fields, to give just two examples.

Whether it is swimming in data or sitting in the village of Nyamikamba (as Stuart did recently), there is always a new observation to be found.

We just have to look for it.

sk