I’m a bit late in posting this, but in September Collaborator Arden Stern and I presented our work on practices of collaboration between ethnographers and designers at the AIGA New Ventures conference in Portland, Oregon. Many thanks to session organizer Elpitha Tsoutsounakis.
Abstract: A great deal has been written on the convergence of ethnographic and designerly modalities, yet much work to date has focused on the development and engagement of ethnographic methods for designers and design researchers. The ways in which ethnographers and designers work collaboratively in groups has attracted considerably less attention. This paper reviews and analyzes the methods that ethnographers and designers use to collaborate in the context of social impact design, a field that often necessitates the creation of interdisciplinary teams to solve complex problems, within the context of design education. Offering an overview of different existing models as well as possible models for this form of interdisciplinary collaboration, we situate our analysis of these approaches within a series of case studies drawn from academic settings. We focus in particular on two: 1) a case study of ethnographers and designers collaborating within an undergraduate social impact design program, and 2) a case study of designers, engineers, and ethnographers collaborating to produce insights in a strategic partnership between Intel Labs and an academic research center. Each of these cases is described and analyzed using frameworks and principles from Science of Team Science (SciTS), which studies the contexts, conditions, and behaviors that impact formation and success of transdisciplinary teams, alongside discussions and theories of knowledge sharing and collaboration drawn from the Social Sciences, Humanities, and interdisciplinary studies of knowledge infrastructure. We argue that careful consideration of how the strategies and traditions mobilized by designers and ethnographers both dovetail and diverge can lead not only to more effective team-building but also more dynamic and sustainable approaches to social impact initiatives. Our goal is to use these frameworks and dialogues to help both designers and ethnographers reflect critically on their collaborations and engage more effective interdisciplinary methods.