Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Engineers Don't Listen

Engineering ethnography needs to become more of a focus - from the academic to the professional practice.  The quest to understand how technologies, culture, and organizations interact and affect each other will be a key to competitive advantage.  Engineering must have a great desire to interface with and understand the behavioral sciences.  This collaboration between the two fields will help engineers develop technology better, along with understanding how organizations could be designed to use technology better.  Engineers will be tasked with observing  people doing their everyday work to better understand their constraints and opportunities.  The key to engineering ethnographic thinking is the ability to share information with the behavioral sciences and provide meaningful insights.

The current issue of The Atlantic has  a good introduction to the subject (Anthropology Inc. by Graeme Wood).  Consider the following from the article:

"Tech firms, certainly, appear to be major consumers of ethnographic research.  "Technology companies as a whole are in danger of being more disconnected from their customers than other companies," says Ken Anderson, an ethnographer of Intel.  Tech designers succumb to the illusion that their users are all engineers.  "Our mind-set is that people are really just like us, and they're really not," Anderson says.  Ethnography helps tech the techie types to understand those consumers who "aren't living and breathing the technology" the way an Intel engineer might."

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