Monday, August 13, 2007

I Found.

I Found.

There’s a Chinese saying that the best way to understand a person is to go through his trash? Or maybe it’s from the FBI rule book.

I moved from India to United States to pursue higher studies at the Institute of Design which entailed a heavy dose of ethnography and user research. ID differentiated from other colleges by the mantra “User Centric Design Approach”. During my two years there I learnt various methodologies and frameworks to understand the “user”. But they all seem very “intellectual” and conditioned. The whole act involved an ensemble of tools like camera, notebook, questionnaire, etc which made the research very staged and left the user highly conscious of my motives. I graduated with a Masters degree and all the tools in my bag but little knowledge of the inherent idiosyncrasies of the culture that thrived around me. The concoction of cultures that constitutes America puzzled me. I was so preoccupied with the courses and lectures that I missed out on experiencing the true squeaks and smells of the masses. I wanted to meet the everyday American, know what he does, what he thinks. Almost wished I could dress up in a black robe and have a bunch of people confess to me their deepest desires, dreams, fears, perceptions, aspirations. The stuff that makes people tick, and get out of bed ever morning. I needed something that could make me catch up all those lost years of growing up with them and empathize with this culture at its deepest crudest level.

I came across this magazine called FOUND. I was amazed to find all my answers there. I laughed at some and was shocked by others. An of course there was also the dirty found. In all as I flipped through pages I was going through what people call cultural sensitization. The book was a collection of found stuff: love letters, birthday cards, kids' homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, doodles-- anything that gives a glimpse into someone else's life. Anything goes. Here was a bundle of information, a lens to look through. Information people generated when they were least conscious of their surrounding many in their most honest hour.

Does user ethnography start with digging through the consumer trash or simply collecting found pieces? Objects and artifacts that people create tell stories. Many, many stories.

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