EPIC Speakers, help me to help you

EPIC, we need to talk.

I’m a UX person and by that, I mean I’m a researcher, designer, project manager and usability tester. The bit I like most of my job, is the research bit, and my favourite type of research is ethnography. I loved ethnography before I came to EPIC and will leave with a much better appreciation for the discipline and a new passion for encouraging my UX colleagues to get stuck into it. The conference therefore, was brilliant, wonderfully organised, engaging speakers and a great mix of academics and industry people.

So what’s my issue you ask? Well, as you might imagine I live my life digitally and go to a lot of events, mostly digital or UX focused. Go to any digital event and there will be as much activity on Twitter as there is in the lecture hall. Discussions happen, people tweet interesting quotes from speakers and people who can’t afford to come, or have time to attend can keep up.

My message to you, especially the speakers for next year, is don’t underestimate this channel. I was amazed that most of the speakers this year (who were awesome by the way), had no online presence. You’re missing out on one massive audience. Take @drewpasmith. Drew is a well connected industry chap in the worlds of research and user experience  He’s got 2000+ followers, including many Heads of Research at top agencies. He tweeted a lot about this years conference:

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From Tweetreach I can see that Drew generated 22,000 impressions from his #EPIC2013 tweets. I could say the same about @sladner. Sam probably doesn’t need much introduction to most of you, but with 2,265 high quality industry followers, her tweets are worth a lot.

So EPIC 2014 speakers, help me to help you. I’m going to tweet about you and I’m going to blog about you (see 2013’s blogs below) anyway so why not give me something to link too? And you don’t need a sexy portfolio site (though that would be nice), here are some ideas:

  • Landing Pages: There are a couple of great website building sites which create simple landing pages for your online profile. They’re quick to use and have plenty of templates to make designing them really quick. Have a look at about.me or flavours.me. Get a domain from hover.com which you’ll be able to point your langing page too. The website builders offer a lot of help with this and you can even by domain names through them to make it even simpler.
  • Twitter: Get a twitter account. Even if it’s only used at conferences, it will give you access to the other conversations happening at the event and give the blogging world something to reference back too.
  • Tell us about it: Twitter handles (like @jamesasterisk) belong on your slides in a corner so we can see them throughout your presentation. Tweet a few times with the event hashtag.

The EPIC team are doing a great job online so make the most of it. Help us to talk about you and the great talk you’ve just given us. The #EPIC2013 hashtag reached over 15,000 accounts this year, that’s a lot of people in what is a pretty close industry.

My EPIC 2013 blogs:

Day 1 morning & afternoon

Day 2 morning

Day 3 morning

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EPIC 2013: Day 3 – Morning papers

The final day looms on what has been a fantastic EPIC conference. This morning’s papers are taking a different steer, concentrating on where the future of ethnography might be heading.

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Eric Arnould, University of BathJulien Cayla, Nanyang Technological University – Consumer fetish: The symbolic imaginary of consumer research

Honestly, I didn’t follow what Eric was talking on, I think I’ve been out of academia too long, so here’s his synopsis:

“Commercial ethnography access the lived experiences of consumer that are constructed as the “others” that firms have to discover and seduce. In organisational contexts where the hyper-centricity of consumer desire and the necessity to accumulate organisational knowledge about markets have become paramount, the figure of the “consumer” has become a quasi-magical object bestowed with the aura of the real, a fetish that comes to stand for the market, and symbolizes the firm’s effective orientation towards the market.”

You can download his paper here. I did however manage to snap this great photo of him.

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Jonathan Bean, Bucknell UniversityZeynep Arsel, Concordia University – Understanding mediated practices

Jonathan and his team looked at Apartment Therapy as a tool to try to explore how ethnographers can use online tools to backup qual research. In this case, looking at taste regime of AT and asking themselves: how can we use this blog data to gain insight.

Basically, this sums up apartment therapy's taste regime

Jonathan gained some deep insight by blogging for AT for a year and then used some online tools to pull the data down from the blog. The team used this data to uncover how ‘taste’ could be mapped into analytical categories. They had success by mapping text from the blogs into nouns, verbs and adjectives. This gave them an ‘inventory’ of the taste regime.

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The team then gave these data driven results context by doing ethnographic studies with users and found that the blog users had various ways of linking the blog’s posts to their own environments through various rituals:

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This was a great example of contextualise ethnographic insights through quantitative data.

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Dan Lockton, Flora Bowden, Catherine Greene, Clare Brass, Rama Cheerawo, Royal College of Art, London – People and energy: A design-led approach to understanding everyday energy use behavior Dan spoke about the challenges involved in influencing behaviour change in the public when it comes to energy use. Dan’s message was about the importance of using research when designing behavioural change.

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His particular area of interest was smart meters, and the issue that they’ve been designed with very little ‘human input’, after all, how useful is a number on a LCD screen telling you how many watts your using?

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Dan’s team took an ethnographic approach to the issue. They worked with them to uncover how they would incorporate energy monitors into their households and their routines.

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This human insight showed the team the variety of ways the data would need to be displayed. For instance, a happy or sad face wouldn’t be appropriate for users who have to use a lot of energy for health reasons. The team then tested their potential solutions in ‘living labs’, mock houses where they could conduct controlled tests for their ideas. You can see more about Dan’s project here: http://suslab.rca.ac.uk/ @danlockton

Dr Genevieve Bell Intel, London – Magical thinking Genevieve argued that technology is now at a strange where we build strong relationships with technology. Using the journey from the Furby to Siri to demonstrate how we’ve moved from machines that talk to us, to those which listen to us.

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Through the developments in microscopes, the democratization of time through accessible and reliable timepieces, came the death of magic, Genevieve argued that with the renaissance, came a growing fear of the unknown and technology. With this came the first attempts to create life with technology, citing the automatic duck as the first automaton which could (almost) replicated the life cycle of a duck.

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After this comes the the application of technology to shift the industrial workforce from a traditional workforce  to a mechanised one. With this came the rise of the luddite movement in England which saw looms being destroyed in factories in an attempt to prevent the growth the mechanised mills. Of course, these attempts were in vain with many luddites being convicted and sent to Australia.

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Next Genevieve links the growth of electricity and the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly and cites this as the beginning of the trope of: ‘If technology gets too developed, it will try to kill us”. This, Genevieve suggests, was the start of the fear of technology as we know it today. Then came the development of the computer with Babbages ‘first’ computer which Genevieve suggests had its first ‘real’ use at Bletchley Park in World War 2. She then gave an emotional and thoughtful biography of Alan Turing, and then cited his 1950 article “Can Machines Think?” which led to the well know ‘Turning Test’ 

The Turning Test (from Wiki)

The Turning Test (from Wiki)

The question then, Genevieve says, turns to whether machines can feel. Genevieve then took us on a journey to Japan where technology was embraced into society as objects of beauty and delight.

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Genevieve showed us the above sign, which shows that Japanese culture isn’t afraid of technology in the same way as can be recognised in Western culture. The sign explains that autonomous robots operate on the road, whereas this could create unease in America. However, electricity’s introduction in America caused great excitement, with people travelling across the country just to see electricity. It was embraced by the population in various guises. After this, Genevieve told us about how Radium began to grow in popularity, even making it’s way into glowing makeup and even radium suppository. Then this ‘luster’ of radium faded, which is a similar journey of many technology cycles. Things are new and exciting, we embrace it, and then we fall out of love with it, as Genevieve says, “the moments of wonder fade”. Genevieve argues that we know why we are scared of technology now, so why can’t we engineer this idea into our designs. We should be creating magic in the products we create.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

The talk concluded with the need for us to keep technology magical and counteract the normal technologists attempts to make things more visible and human (which we know makes people uncomfortable).

@feraldata

Want to learn more? Download the speaker’s papers here

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The dangers of the ambiguous hashtag

Something strange happened when I first engaged with this year’s EPIC conference on my favourite social media platform. The hashtag for the event, #EPIC2013, was apparently a favourite hashtag of the ‘yoof when communicating what a fantastic year they were having so far. And it wasn’t just them, there was also a youth Christian festival in Florida called…EPIC so made use of the same hashtag. It made for some light relief on the event’s twitter feed, here are some of my favourites:

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EPIC 2013: Day 2 – Morning papers

Day 2 of EPIC 2013 proved a much quieter start, probably due to the 9am kick off after the conference dinner the previous evening. However, even if some eyes were drooping, the intellectual rigour certainly wasn’t:

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Dr David Howes, Concordia University – The race to embrace the senses

Tuesday’s keynote was delivered by Dr David Howes, director of many interesting things at Concordia University in Montreal. David started his talk by speaking on the growth of marketers using “senses” to sell their wares. A key example David used was the iPod Touch, a device whose entire name is based on the touch sense. However, with it’s entirely flat glass screen, it actually offers very little to the user when they ‘touch’ their iPod Touch.

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David went on to explain the use of tactile sensual input originated in the earliest department stores, with a “hyper emphasis” on the visual. The growth in consumerism lead to a crowded environment for the consumer to make purchase decisions as visual advertising took off. Manufacturers being to look at different sensory inputs, one of the earliest being Coke, who began to differentiate their bottles from those of Pepsi etc by adopting the now famous tactile bottle.

Fragrance was another sensory model taken up by advertisers, with supermarkets using the bread smell to attract customers through the shop and the well known ‘Got Milk’ campaign which used scent diffusers to release the smell of cookies when the user saw the advert for milk.

David then went on to discuss how many of these sensory inputs began to be trademarked by organisations, including sounds and smells. This raises an interesting question of whether one can own an odour, a key problem being that it’s very difficult to ‘measure’ a scent with machinery, with the human nose being the best judge.  This clearly causes issues when applied to the scientific method.  One of the most interesting aspects of this problem was the discovery of the effect the environment has on taste and smell. One study, David explained, showed that consuming one product under a red light has a significant influence on the user’s taste. This clearly has issues for any test conducted in a white walled laboratory.

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So what might this mean for experience design? It’s now known that smell goes straight to the brain with little processing in between, meaning that marketers have a unique pathway straight to the primeval part of the mind. Brands now though target multiple sensory touch-points when communicating with consumers.

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Jay Dautcher, Mike Griffen, Eugene Limb, Tiffany Romain, Ricoh Innovations,  – Techno|Theory Deathmatch: An agnostic experiment in theory and practise

Oooops, technology issues meant that I missed this talk, here’s the synopsis though!

Our Research + Design team experiments with a new approach to bringing theory into practice at the midpoint of a year-long technology project by holding Techno- Theory Deathmatch. Think Bruno Latour meets Fight Club. Participants read, then represent, select theorists in a round-robin tournament competing to surface insights that enrich our vision of the current project’s possibilities. The surviving theorist is declared winner.

Christina Wasson, University of North Texas – “It Was Like a Little Community”: An Ethnographic Study of Online Learning and its Implications for MOOCs

Christina talked about the rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like Coursea from an ethnographic perspective. The dramatic rise in higher education costs has meant that students have had to work longer hours which in turn, has encouraged them to form family groups and eventually, settle down at an earlier stage. MOOCs might provide a solution to this problem.

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Christina conducted an ethnographic study of her own anthropology course which was taught online. One of the key insights from the study was that online students thought that online discussions were perceived as high quality, often higher quality then they might have in person. The students also felt comfortable talking online during the course, either through online discussion boards or a weekly tele-conference.

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One of the largest issues discovered was that the high drop out rates (up to 85%), it can be difficult to maint the community of learners. Another issue is that low-income learners often get channeled towards MOOCs for obvious reasons. However, MOOCs can have much lower pass rates than face-to-face courses, therefore putting these students at an immediate disadvantage.

Elisa Oreglia, University of California Berkeley & Kathi R Kitner, Intel Research – The “Consumption Junction” of ICT in Emerging Markets: An Ethnography of Middlemen

Elisa and her team conducted research in IT shops in rural China, particularly those selling mobile phones. One of the key insights from the research was that there was considerably less choices available to these consumers, in terms of shops, brand, device and network.

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The user journey to purchasing a device in a developed economy (internet searches, friends devices etc) is very dissimilar to that in rural China. Advertising is much less developed and traditional e-commerce routes are much less developed, if available at all. Shops therefore, become the key driver of purchase choice.

These retail routes are highly fragmented and informal businesses. Therefore, the consumers purchase is a negotiation between what the consumers want and what the shop can realistically provide.

DSC02501Interestingly, these informal shop owners have unique relationships with their customers, guiding them on purchase decisions and displaying a deep understanding what they need.

Elisa’s ‘Consumption Junction’ for this purchase journey is both complicated and enlightening. As with more developed markets, the consumer sits at the centre of the journey but the limiting factors involved (geographic, financial etc) have large impacts on the user’s purchase decisions.

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Deborah Maxwell, Mel Woods & Suzanne Prior, University of Edinburgh – The pop-up ethnographer: Roles of the researcher in temporary space

Mel spoke about her team’s research in pop-up spaces. These temporary spaces are a hive of research opportunities for ethnographers and Mel took us through some case-studies which her team constructed.

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The first project, called the “Serendipitous Maypole” looked at how people might document the temporary spaces they were in, be is a festival or pop-up shop. The project aimed to gather feedback on a space, and also provide a focal point for the documenting activity which visitors were already doing.

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Ken Anderson, Tony  Salvador & Brandon Barnett, Intel –  Models in Motion: From design ethnography to ecological ethnography

Ken’s lively presentation centered on the future of ethnography and where we might be heading. Looking at the current state of the technology landscape (short product cycles, quick development, reduced corporation lifecycles), it’s clear that ethnography needs to keep up with it.

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Ken argued that we’re moving from the traditional user/business/technology (or UX) model. The point of this approach was to understand the whole problem and design from that. 

The traditional model

Ken suggests that instead of trying to understand the whole problem, we instead look at the ‘flux’, the rapidly changing aspects of the system and incubators. So how does ethnography fit in here.

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Ken suggests that some successful ethnographic research exercises have purely concentrated on small aspects of the system. For instance, China Youthology purely look at youth behaviours in China, nothing else. By doing this longitudinal work, they get a fuller understanding of the flux, or changed in the system.

 

Want to learn more? Download the speaker’s papers here

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EPIC 2013: Day 1 – Afternoon papers

So after some excellent PechaKuchas, here some the next conference speakers!

Jacob Buur, Rosa TorguetSPIRE, University of Southern Denmark – Ethnographic Findings in the Organizational Theater

Jacob spoke about how researchers can use theater to promote stakeholder participation in research sessions and help them to understand user needs. He argued that using theater is a great way to promote participation with stakeholders in creative sessions and his colleague Rosa showed us the how much more effective it is when compared to a normal presentation:

Red arrows denote interaction

Red arrows denote interaction

Louise Buch LogstrupSPIRE, University of Southern Denmark – Exploring the intangible potential of private energy smart grids

Louise presented her work on the development of smart energy networks, where the user can feed in power to the grid through micro-generation. Energy companies in the traditional model referred to users as ‘loads’ who place loads upon the system, not humans with behaviours and needs.

The energy company conducted a trial of a new system which would give the organisation control over the energy input and output in the home. Louise’s team were brought in to assess the companies conclusion that the pilot was a success. They found that whilst the company thought their system was a success, the user’s human character traits brought up issues, such as a mother not being able to turn the light on at night in her babies bedroom.

The solution was to rethink the relationship between user and power company, moving the consumer away from being thought of as simply ‘loads’ on the system. Louise and her team ran workshops with the company, bringing in the insights they learnt from their research. Suddenly the organisation’s employees recognised the benefits of private energy users as part of their system is a positive way as a 2 way relationship.

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Anna Wojnarowska, Gina Taha, Experientia & Nancy Vuckovic, Todd Harple, Intel– Mobility is more than a device: understanding complexity in healthcare with ethnography

Anna spoke about how they worked to improve mobile device use in hospitals situations. As part of the research, the team crossed 4 countries and discovered the variety complications involved in international research.

“We had to constantly deal with the fact that we as researchers, were always in the Doctors way.”

The difficulties they found when researching in the healthcare world meant that the research team had to be incredibly flexible in their approach. This understanding of the clinicians work environment also helped the team understand the challenges their users will face. Whatever the team designed had to help the doctors in their work without causing an additional barrier to their work. It was also challenging to encourage clinicians to try the new systems as they’re used to creating work-arounds to legacy systems.

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Nancy spoke about how the two key ways of working were Agility and Trust. The way they worked has to be agile to work around the challenges Anna identified and the trust which was built through co-creation sessions with clinical staff.

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Katharine Sieck, Olsen Marketing – Move Me: On Stories, Rituals, and Building Brand Communities

Is there a way to create a research template that is marketed on rituals? Culture and society uses rituals to make change happen (weddings, festivals etc), people go in at one end, something happens, and they come out of the end of the ritual appreciating something more (fasting), feeling part of something (initiations) or remembrance (intensely personal experiences).

Katharine’s challenge was to use these rituals as a model to research user behaviour and use these findings to help develop marketing activity. The example used was luxury sports cars. When the researchers tried to ask drivers what the cars meant to them,  they usual response was “you just have to drive it to understand”. Instead, they linked up with people who own the cars and experienced the cars with the drivers. This proved to be much more immersive for the researchers. The ritual of getting in the car and having an intense experience provided a much more fulfilling research experience.

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Yosha GargeyaReD Associates – “Out of the labs”- The role for ethnography in guiding clinical trials

How does ethnography get involved with clinical trials? Before this talk I didn’t think any but Yosha’s team worked with a pharma company to gain insight. The condition in question was a new one for the pharma organisation so they had little understanding of the patients. The current drugs for the condition were very expensive and results (good or bad) didn’t show for 6 to 12 months after treatment began.

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Working with the pharma company, they began research with patients, scientists and doctors. They spent time in people’s homes and clinics to get a full understanding of the consequences of the illness.

“We wanted to find out what it actually meant to suffer from the disease”

The illness they were working with had an unidentified cause so one of the biggest insights they found was that patients suffered constant worry about what had caused them to get this disease and if it was something they could have prevented.

The team then came up with ways for these insights to have impact at the clinical trial stage. About 1 in 10,000 drugs gets through the approval phase, and this was the main criteria for success. The team instead used their research to create other parameters for success for the patients and doctors. These criteria formed an objective for the scientists to use over the long term project, other than just success at the FDA approval stage.

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EPIC 2013: Day 1 – Morning papers

EPIC 2013 kicked off on a sunny but brisk September morning in Mayfair, possibly the only borough in London where you’re guaranteed to feel underdressed no matter what you wear. Here’s a summary of the first speakers and their talks.

Tricia Wang – Keynote

Tricia Wang’s keynote address argued of the dangers of relying on data, without the the context that ethnography provides. We’ve constantly mistaken data for knowledge and when businesses make this mistake, they end up like Kodak, relying on the data without the wider human context. And this understanding of humans is a creative skills, it should be creative work and not based on measurements.

Tricia also spoke about the challenge of making Ethnography visible. Much of the work ethnographers do doesn’t make the public eye because much of it’s output is invisible, it’s what doesn’t happen to a service or product. Ethnographers need to get better at telling stories.

Finally, Trica argues that Big Data is great for generating questions, but Thick Data (ethnography and qual research), is the only way to get answers to those questions.

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Theodore Pollari & Kim ErqinIIT Institute of Design – Small Packages for Big (qualitative) Data

Kim presented on the her research paper which identified the issue researchers have when faced with large data sets. Effectivly, data collection tools have developed faster than data processing tools, so we now have a situation where we have enormous data sets and few ways to deal with them. Her teams idea is for researchers to develop ‘Small Packages” or toolkits for researchers to use to help process this data.

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Erin Taylor, Institute for Social Sciences & Heather HorstRoyal Melbourne Institute of Technology – From street to satellite: meixing methods to understand mobiel money users

Erin’s research project showed how mobile money services were changing from the expected use case. Mobile money covers 192 companies across the world and uses local agents (hairdresser, shops etc) instead of traditional bank institutions.. In Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, it was seen as a development tool for NGOs to give cash grants to help the community. At the time, it was the only way to get money distributed quite help the quick adoption of mobile money. Their research programme unearthed some key issues. One of these key insights was trust for the users. Previous to the earthquake, the populous trusted mobile phone operators considerably more than the Haitian government (68% vs 8%), particularly the main operator Digi-Cell. This helped the swift uptake.

Another insight what the growth of ‘me-to-me’ transactions. In a city which isn’t very safe, people would pay money to the mobile money agent, travel across the city and then withdraw the funds from another agent.

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Abby MargolisClaro Partners – Five misconceptions about Personal Data: Why we need a people-centred Approach to “Big” data

Abby asked how ethnography can help us understand big data, and in particular, what can ethnography offer to help us understand how people use Big Data in their everyday lives. Essentially, how can we give the user’s data back to them to use in interesting ways. Some products which do this are well known (Nest thermostats for instance).

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Abby’s top 5 misconceptions about Personal Data:

  • Big Data is the new oil: Personal data is only relevant to the initial user. It’s not a universal commodity like oil.
  • Personal data is all about privacy: People don’t necessarily want to lock data away, they want to know what their data can do for them.
  • The value of personal data is in it’s sale: We’re used to big organisations making money from the selling of data (i.e. Google’s advertising). Valuable experiences and services can be created which use personal data to benefit the user.
  • Personal data is for data scientists: Personal data empowers people, it’s accessible and doesn’t have to be complicated if the tools are available. User’s aren’t just generating the data, they’re using and benefiting from it.

And how can ethnography help this process?:

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John Curran, JC Innovation & Strategy – Big Data or ‘Big ethnographic data’? Positioning big data within the ethnographic space.

John’s talk focused on how s big data is finding a place within society and where this might take us. For instance, Tesco tried to understand the purchase patterns of new parents. They used big data to try to understand these purchase behaviours and amusingly discovered that the biggest purchased with nappies was beer. John used this example to demonstrate how sense must be made of this insight. Ethnographers are talented at understanding why parents purchased these products together, but ‘Big Data’ wouldn’t.

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@drjcurran

That’s all for this morning!

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The Problem with Sliders

Ebay’s recent UI overhall has been largely praised, and indeed, on the whole I like it a lot. There have been quite a few changes to the UI and IA and I think experience has unanimously been improved. Well, almost, I have a problem, and that problem is the slider.

In days of old, if you wanted to filter your search results by price, the user would enter the minimum and maximum amounts into text fields, like this:

It worked well. If I was to critique it from a UX perspective then I would suggest that the drawbacks to this approach might be that the user can’t see what the range of prices available to their search. For instance, if the user is buying a product in an unfamiliar category, perhaps they have no frame of reference for the cost of the item.

So with the UI overhall, came the new way for the user to define their price bracket. For those who’ve not seen, it looks like this:

 

SLIDERS! I can see some logic behind the choice to introduce a slider for this function. LIke I said earlier, this approach instantly gives the user an overview of the price ranges available, well, it sort of does. You see, the maximum value changes dependant on the search query. The minimum value however, does not. And this might cause some user confusion because the slider scale makes no sense. Let me explain:

 

This slider above was taken from a search for a Macbook Pro. The price range was quite varied as you can see (where the £10,000 MacBook came from I don’t know). As you have probably guessed, the problem is the scales on the slider. In this example, the middle of the slider is £0.99 to £11. If we did a quick user test and asked people to guess where £11 should be located on this slider, I doubt the feedback would be in the centre.

This isn’t the only problem with the slider though. The original text entry fields made it much faster for the user to define a search range, say, less than a second for a speed typist. Now however, the user has to familiarise themselves with the slider layout, learn where the values they are looking for are located on the scale and then set their amount. Finding the exact amount is difficult too because you might have a huge range of prices, but the slider stays the same size.

It’s also a problem from an accessibility point of view. Sliders require good levels of hand dexterity and strength. They’re also a problem for someone who uses screen readers. More widely though, they’re not simple for everyone to use as the slider is quite a small target area for the user to hit.

So that’s what I think of sliders, but I’d be keen to get everyone’s input. To my mind, this is a UX fail, what do you think? Comment below or tweet me:

@jamesasterisk

 

 

 

UPDATE

Since I wrote this, I have discovered that if the user clicks on ‘Customise’ then there still is the option to entre values and bypass the slider (below). I still think sliders in this use case are pants though…

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