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The Blind Leading the Deaf

Tokyo: race to the airport

Acknowledging for a moment that this article at the Harvard Business Review is written for a particular audience, that experiences vary from corporation to corporation and that its scope goes beyond engineers versus anthropologists – for most of you reading Future Perfect the article largely misses the point.

For all the current buzz currently surrounding ethnographic / anthropological research – this isn’t the only way to feel out what or how to design (in the broadest sense of the word), doesn’t always provide value, and absolutely shouldn’t be part of every design process – anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t asking enough questions about what their client needs and hasn’t factored in the skills of the team at hand. At it’s worst ethnographic research is an expensive, time-consuming distraction that can take the design team (and the client they represent) in the wrong direction.

At it’s best, well, at its best it inspires, informs, and delivers insights that can shape and sustain ideas/products/services/resources through the organisation all the way to the consumer, it’s cost effective, it’s timely, its responsive. Its as much about bridging corporate culture as bridging cultures. In short it’s all about finding the right people with skills that stretch across multiple disciplines and the right blend of project management, strategic thinking, diplomacy, leadership, humility, media awareness, extrapolation, psychology, street smarts combined with an instinct for bridging experiences from the field and understanding what it takes to make them relevant. I probably forgot listening. Damn. (The ability to apply academic rigour to the task at hand is a bonus, but on more than one occasion I’ve seen it get in the way of the best interests of the project and the client.)

It’s what my design studio colleagues would probably call an in-between job – living in a space between existing disciplines, existing ways of doing things. Not sure quite where that sits in the corporate career path. Not sure I care to know.