Monday, 20 September 2010

The EPIC journey

January 2010: I got an invitation to be on the program committee of an ethnographic conference, EPIC 2010. Which is a professional community conference, it is not a for-profit conference but instead is organized by the community for the community. My role was to select, coach and help organize the workshop session, along with a partner.

While I didn¹t know how much work this would be (not complaining - loved all the learning that came with the work), my reasons for accepting were A. That I firmly believe that the basis of all design in an ethnically diverse nation like India has to be deep seated, almost intuitive cultural triggers.

And yet, we operate on too many assumptions about our target audience/user/consumer. We generalize and don¹t get under the surface enough. So it¹s a great idea to have a dialogue about newer ways of getting under the skin of the end user. Ethnography is at a nascent stage of development in India but it¹s the only way forward B. A great, global and diverse group: practitioners, clients and academicians on the same platform C. Japan. Yes Japan, where they have taken inspiration from many lands and cultures, complicated schools of thought and culled the essence, reduced it to a spiritual simplicity. D. Kenya Hara. The final clincher. The art director of Muji, the no-brand brand. Design bliss - and if I believed in the idea of role models, he would definitely be one.

[Ethnography is Participative observation or the intimate study of human society. To investigate how people do things and discover what¹s missing in their lives. To then dream up products and services. To use concepts that avoid casual explanations and prefer symbolic interactions. Criminology, economics, social work, psychologyŠhave employed ethnography. Now, design does too].

 Epic theme: The theme of this year's Epic was DO (Japanese). Do captures the sense of individual mastery that is achieved only with the help of a community and its rich heritage. DO implies a body of knowledge and tradition with an ethic and an aesthetic. DO is the "path" we have travelled and also the way ahead of us. EPIC 2010 featured a wide range of ethnographic applications in industry, different "ways" forward.
Ethnographic praxis in industry is global in scope, but adapted to different geographies (Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Europe, North America), different contexts (academia, business, NGOs, government), different industries (technology, healthcare, consumer goods, advertising) and different purposes (product innovation, strategy, interorganizational collaboration, communications, policy making). The conference had 20 PAPER PRESENTATIONS, 12 WORKSHOPS, 17 ARTIFACT PRESENTATIONS, 7 PECHA KUCHA SESSIONS, 7 MASTER TOURS.

Some of the ideas that stayed with me were * hyperskilling, actively coordinating inputs from multiple disciplines in an attempt at effective collaboration. * Video as a powerful tool to bring alive the end user, especially user made videos. * Of seeking collaboration to understand new cultures and people * Of finding ever new ways of getting into the heads of the individual, especially in the age of the internet, where all you interact with is an identity. * Living Avatar Networks, where someone else lives an experience for you * Tools that need to be designed to continuously track user understanding * the role of ethnography in designing public
services *  

In the Pecha Kucha sessions, A young designer shared her journey through ethnography, another team looked at how we can build on traditions, yet another showed images that each tell a story. A designer sketched over the
18 minute walk from his home to his studio. Microsoft Research captured the digital photo studio in India. Then there were skeumorphs (features of tech products that have lost their original function but have been retained
nevertheless) and spandrels (features that have been retained because they have taken on a new function).

Do check out the concepts of cosplay and Meido Café, where the real and the created (anime) collide in new ways.

TOKYO: The Japanese I met were warm and sincere, albeit a little reserved, which is not a bad thing really. The Tokyo Midtown center and it¹s conference facility where Epic 2010 was hosted, was something else really.
Perfect doesn¹t even begin to describe the conference facility, where the light, sound and space made it seem like a one on one conversation ­ all sensory barriers that technology imposes, were nonexistent. And while yes, the materials used for the Mid Town center itself are ordinary, just glass with clean straight lines, the effect is touching. Nature ­ light, water, pebbles, sunshine are the elements that these otherwise overpowering materials framed. And typically, even with buildings that are many floors high, the scale is human, the journey from the road to within is seamless.
Spaces are tight and yet beautiful. It's Blade Runner photoshopped, vacuumed and depeopled! Besides design stores, hotels, shopping and dining facilities, TMC has a Design Hub with JIDPO, JAGDA.

Omote Sando is a vision: a place where both the people and the stores have been photoshopped just yesterday. I felt like the only thing real there!
Cutting edge brands and cutting edge style. Understated statements brand etherealism, if such a term can exist.

People I met and who are now my friends and Idiom friends are Hiroshi from Hakuhodo, Fumiko ­ a lovely and energetic person, Mizuki who showed me Don Quixote, Luis (of insitum) who invited me in the first place and Roberto and his warm and beautiful wife, Elizabeth and little Olivia, John (my workshop¹s partner) and his wife Rebecca. Nimmi, how can anyone not mention her ­ who presented her piece on digital photo stuidios in India like a bharatnatyam dancerŠcompletely unforgettable. Then, of course, The taxi driver, who told me about the sad state of the economy ­ the unions, the pay cuts, the long working hours, the insecurity and wedding expenses.

My last impression was the sharp, simple and beautiful black cone of Mt Fuji, surrounded by a ring of clouds - perfect!

Posted by Sonia

You can check out the EPIC website here

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