Ethnographic & User Data

Language, Culture, and Communication

Where we come from — our background culture: our country of origin and language, our heritage and religion (or lack there of), our family, our education, our friends, and where we live — has an enormous impact on our ability to communicate. What’s more, when people from different cultural backgrounds try to interact with each other, these differences can cause catastrophic failures. Direct versus Indirect Communication Styles Consider the following set of remarks about doing homework: Do your homework! Can you start doing your homework? Would you mind starting your homework now? Let’s clean the table so you can start your homework. Do you need help with homework? It’s getting late, do you have a lot of homework? Didn’t you say you have a lot of homework? Johnny’s mom said that he has a lot of homework today… Do you have everything ready for school tomorrow? Look how late it is — it’s almost time for bed. You have school tomorrow. Each of the statements above represents a progressively less direct command to do homework. In my family, I usually pick number 2 to communicate my desires for finished homework to my sons (although number 1 is perfectly acceptable, to…

Tools to Jump-start Product Design Process

product design proposal: user groups

I often encounter the Blank Page Syndrome among our clients. They have an IDEA, but find it difficult to translate the nebulous desires into plans and actions that become a business. I hear a lot: “I know what I want, I just don’t know how that gets translated into something tangible.” The problem though is that most times, these individuals don’t know what they really want. And my job as a designer is to do product design therapy to uncover the real needs and separate them from vague desires. There are a few strategies for this (cognitive scaffolding for the design process). From the point of view of the final product, it is important that the client buys into the ideas and makes them their own. When I hear my words spoken back to me a few weeks into the process, I feel more confidant that the final result will be the practical manifestation of my client’s desires. Define the Categories of Product Users When one runs a business, selling products or providing services, it’s important to keep in mind that in most cases it’s not about you (typical mirroring error). The products and services have to appeal to end…

World-wide Map of Health-based Human Rights Judgments

Benjamin Mason Meier, Assistant Professor of Global Health Policy, is one of the creators of the Global Health and Human Rights Database. Benjamin and his colleagues wanted to collect information on different forms of legal tools used around the world to advance the human rights in health. Here is a link to his paper describing the project: “Bridging international law and rights-based litigation: Mapping health-related rights through the development of the Global Health and Human Rights Database.” I was interested in seeing his data on the map. So I used an open source project CartoDB to plot Benjamin’s data on the map. And here’s a quick visualization. Now I’m interested in comparing the resulting map with The World Bank eAtlas of Global Development maps. In particular, it would be interesting to compare GDP with focus on health-based human rights.

Cuteness Inspires Violence Research and Angry Birds

cheek pinching

Have you ever felt the urge to hug someone too hard? Squeeze a baby? Pinch a cheek? Even when you knew it might hurt the other person? If you have, you are not alone! Last month, Scientific American published an article Cuteness Inspires Aggression on the study done by Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon of Yale University, documenting the intense response to cuteness. Cute aggression’s prevalence does not mean that people actually want to harm cuddly critters, Aragon explains. Rather the response could be protective, or it could be the brain’s way of tamping down or venting extreme feelings of giddiness and happiness. The scientists are currently conducting additional studies to determine what drives the need to squeeze. So this research led me to think of the success of the Angry Birds game. Originally, I thought that it was the juxtaposition of the cuteness factor and violence that made the game so irresistible as a sales effort (once people started playing it, the puzzles were good enough to sustain engagement with the game without the cute + aggressive factor). Would the game be just as fun to talk about (or to wear t-shirts) if the birds weren’t so damn cute?…

Intended and Unintended Consequences of Social Design

Baby Fresh Air Cage for High-rise Apartment Buildings

Nudging is a form of social engineering — a way of designing system constraints and support structures to encourage the majority of people to behave in accordance with your plan. Here’s a famous-in-my-classroom example of nudging: Opt-in versus Opt-out Consent Solutions There are many examples of such social engineering. During our breakout groups at the NIH think tank on the future of citizen participation in biomedical research, I raised the difference between opt-in versus opt-out option results for organ donation. In some countries in Europe, citizens have to opt-out from donating their organs in a case of a tragic accident — they have to do something to NOT donate their organs. As the result in Austria — which has an opt-out system — the donation rate is 99.98%! While in Germany — which has an opt-in system — only 12% will their organs for transplants. This is a huge difference in consent between very similar populations of people. Unintended Consequences of Social Design Not all social engineering efforts go as well as opt-in/opt-out organ donation systems. To reduce pollution for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese government established the even/odd license plate law: cars with even license…

Do you remember Gardol?

Colgate Gardol Ad

Do you know what Gardol is? Unless you are close to retiring, probably not… So here’s a bit of background: Gardol is sodium lauroyl sarcosinate — not a very harmonious sounding chemical. I’m guessing Gardol was a clever marketing trick of combining the words “Guard” and “All”, relying on the phonetic combination to drive home the idea of protective quality of this chemical compound. In our society, chemicals don’t sell — we have an aversion to chemicals, we only want natural products! The common Western p-prim (or folksy wisdom) is that chemical are bad for us, and products created from natural ingredients are good for us … never mind arsenic! Gardol might have disappeared from the drug store ads, but the chemical sodium lauroyl sarcosinate didn’t — today it goes by the name “Advance White” and is part of a very well respected for its natural and health-consious products, Arm & Hammer toothpaste! Oh, and we don’t like the word “dental cream” — it’s toothpaste now…