Designing WITH the Public
September 9, 2019


After being introduced to the philosophy of designing with the public rather than for the public, I have come to realize how difficult it actually is to completely remove your own preconceived theories and voice from the data-gathering process. Ethnographers respond to the challenge of suppressing bias and uncover true user opinions through interview strategies which are curated to reveal the true, unfiltered experience of the interviewee. I find it interesting that “charm” is one of the prime qualities of a successful ethnographer because in a way, ethnographers have to suppress their own character through acting so that interview participants feel free to stop acting and reveal their character. I’m also really intrigued by the concept of analyzing the artifacts in a person’s environment in order to uncover information about their habits. People tend to adopt their habits as a part of their identity, making it hard to have awareness of these actions and reflect on their implications. However, ethnographers who live outside of the person’s routine can look at artifacts objectively to fill in the gaps of the participant’s subjective story.

An interviewer’s responsibilities are beyond following the guidelines of an ethnographic interview, as well. It is possible to conduct a good ethnographic interview that does not follow regulations for research involving human subjects. These regulations are complex to the point of being administered by an International Review Board, but can generally be summed up in three points. According to the Belmont Report, human subject research should account for respect for peers, beneficence, and justice. Research done within a human-centered design process should be easily adjusted to meet this criteria since after all, the goal of the research is to create a product that is specifically derived from needs which would benefit the user group.

This post exists within a series of reflections on  topics and coursework from my Human-Centered Design class, taught by Marty Maxwell Lane at the University of Arkansas.