It’s a bit late in the day to be wrapping up thoughts on EPIC2008, long after it happened but looking through some of the notes I made of some of the sessions that I attended – and it was a rather abridged affair for me - I spotted a very vague set of themes (?) emerging.
1. The unwritten and un-programmed wins out. The slowly emerging visibility of a conference narrative is nearly the best bit of attending such gatherings
2. A rolling stone gathers… When a conference moves from one continent to another it picks up large numbers of new members of its community
3. Ethnography likes to travel. Ethnographic data – like money – needs to be liquid to be valuable. If it has no liquidity in and across organisations then it cannot be exchanged and transacted and has little or no value.
4. Storytelling is key to creating such liquidity. Stories create emotional connections and potential energy around ideas; stories focus on experience (not features); the telling and re-telling of stories creates clarity and forces decisions.
5. Don’t keep your story in six boxes. In opposition to story-telling, ethnography in the design process usually creates scenarios of the classic six box type, which act as fairy tales in which the product the teams are working on plays the lead role as superstar.
6. Do and Think, but do more ‘do’. There was a bubbling debate about the relative merits of doing research and doing something. The consensus seems to be moving away from large research projects towards “a little bit of research and thinking and then some doing and then back round again”. In short, thinky then ‘do-ey’ but with a focus on learning by doing not by thinking.
7. If ethnography is a liquid commodity, then its practitioners are oil miners. Ethnography in corporate settings is not about finding what is hidden but finding stuff that is hard to see for those who either aren’t looking for it or don’t know how to find it. By paying attention to some of the boring stuff of life we can find or define things of value.
8. There are people off stage – designers, technologists and others – with whom users of products and services are in silent conversation. For example, users of a dating website impute the existence of algorithms which massively impact their behaviour and interactions with the site and its users. Belief in their existence becomes a social fact that shapes behaviour.
9. Ethno-this and ethno-that. I heard people complain that EPIC was too consumed by debate about ethnography – what it was and who could do it. I must have missed something. I didn’t hear any such discussion – thankfully this seems to have been confined to 2005 and 2006’s conferences.
10. You what? I still have not worked out what the reference to Dirk Bogarde and the Maltese Falcon was all about.