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Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

visual research methods

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I had the opportunity last week to attend a brilliant course called An Introduction to Visual Methods.

“The aim of this workshop is to provide participants with a step-change career enhancing skills in visual methods; and to provide an ongoing and integrated visual methods resource for researchers with experience in visual methods at intermediate level that is stimulating, challenging and grounded in ‘best practice’.”

Dr Jon Prosser and friends are running an ESRC funded initiative to “build visual method capacity across the social sciences. Part of the initiative was these dirt cheap training courses, aimed at academic and non-academic researchers alike.

The two days involved three hands-on activities and a number of presentations covering:

  • Katherine Davies : photo elicitation and family tree drawing to explore family resemblances and sibling relationships
  • Stuart Muir: video diaries to explore contemporary rituals
  • Rob Walker on children’s photo diaries
  • Andrew Clark on map making and walkabouts to understand urban social geography
  • Tessa Muncey on auto-ethnography through writing and photos
  • David Gauntlett: making documentaries with kids, drawings of celebrities, identity models made of Lego
  • Steve Higgins: using cartoon templates to find out childrens views
  • Ruth Holliday: using video diaries to explore gender identity
  • Jon Prosser on the ethics of visual methods.

There’s a Visual Methods Symposium in July that will explore some of these themes in more depth.

Written by Karen

June 25th, 2008 at 7:47 am

book: Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

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In Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert mentions more than once that his friends are frustrated by his continual identifying of problems without providing solutions. It is certainly true that this is not a self-help book but it may make you look askance at some of your most engrained truths about what you want from life.

Gilbert believes we are rubbish at predicting what will make us happy in the future. He blames:

  • realism – the belief that things are in reality as there are in the mind. But our brains are fallible and rarely scientific; they take all sorts of short-cuts.
  • presentism – the tendancy for current experience to influence one’s views of the past and the future. Our current feelings affect our view of the future (when we are full we can’t imagine being hungry) and the range of possibilities we can imagine is a narrow set ranging around the present.
  • rationalization – the act of causing something to be or to seem reasonable. We view our actions more favourably than our inactions, we rationalize extreme pain more than annoyance (there must be a good reason for going through this!) and we are happier about situations we are committed to and can’t get out of.
  • corrigibility – the capacity for being corrected, reformed or improved (or rather our lack of it). We don’t accept other people’s evidence about things they are doing right now because we are different.

The book contains a brutal and rather depressing graph that shows how parents’ happiness varies with the age of their children. That the lowest point comes with teenagers will surprise no-one but the fact that parents’ happiness only reaches pre-children heights once the kids have again flown the nest is really quite startling. For the most part we mis-judge how happy children make us but it is an error that evolution rewards .

The studies are only comparing happiness of parents over time and don’t compare with non-parents. I’d be interested to see if there was any research to back up the folk opinion that kids might mean sacrifices when they are at home but you’ll appreciate them when you are old (for both care and love they can provide and the sense of continuity/immortality).

Written by Karen

January 15th, 2008 at 12:57 am

Posted in psychology,theory

designing for flow

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Jim Ramsey writes at A List Apart about designing for flow (challenge carefully balanced with your abilities) rather than ease of use. I was very excited to find someone applying Csikszentmihalyi’s theories to web design. And even more so to find Jim tackling the keep-it-simple/making-the-complex-clear debate:

“The goal should not necessarily be to create a simple site. The goal should be to create a site that feels painless to use no matter how complex it really is. But wait, you might be thinking, hasn’t there been a simplicity movement in web design over the last few years? Yes, but there’s a learning curve for any site that seeks to solve a complex problem. We shouldn’t confuse simplicity with a desire to avoid needless complexity.”

Blackbeltjones was also bemoaning the tendency to stick with ‘don’t make me think’ in design and set himself the goal to create services that ‘scamper between beautiful extremes‘ of designs to be glanced at and those to be pored over.

Ramsey’s four flow-based rules reminded me of one BBC team’s (unsuccessful) iPlayer pitch which began with the analogy of a remote control with the more advanced buttons hidden, concealed from everyday use. We have a tendancy never to build those advanced buttons because most of the users (and/or our target users) never use them but we have to remember that simplicity is only one reason that evangelists evangelise.

Written by Karen

December 29th, 2007 at 3:21 am

Posted in bbc,psychology,theory

starting with psychology

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I’m studying psychology with the Open University at the moment. This is helping tie together random thoughts about designing websites for people to use, understanding creativity at work and organisational psychology.

The course I have started with is Y163 – Starting with psychology. It is a short course and very structured since it is an Openings course, intended for students unsure if undergraduate study is for them. So far I’ve avoided any full length OU courses as I’m a bit nervous about the time commitment (and sporadic outbursts of laziness). I might consider Exploring psychology next Autumn. Or perhaps Ethnography or Challenge of the Social Sciences in May.

You can get a taster of the OU’s psychology materials through OpenLearn:

  • Psychology history timeline
  • Psychology in the 21st century
  • The body: a phenomenological psychological perspective
  • I’ve put together this list of free course materials from Open University that might be useful to IAs. I’ve got a much bigger list of courses from MIT’s OpenCourseWare to sift through (more on that later).

    Written by Karen

    December 28th, 2007 at 4:46 am

    Posted in psychology,theory

    book: Happiness by Richard Layard

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    I’ve been reading Happiness – Lessons from a new science which began like an economist’s version of Authentic Happiness. So far so familiar. But then Layard moved onto the role of TV in our current state of happiness. He takes at face value the research suggesting TV makes us more violent and more miserable and didn’t really acknowledge that there was any academic debate about this at all (see Moving Experiences and Everything Bad is Good For You for alternative academic and populist perspectives).

    I might have been more interested in the arguments than TV makes us unhappy if Layard hadn’t so unquestionably accepted the doctrine that TV makes us violent. Watching rubbish TV certainly stops me doing stuff. Some of that stuff is the dull routine of washing up, tidying, and mucking out the animals but it also stops me writing, reading, and making. It wastes my time. Or rather it is how I waste my time.

    But watching brilliant TV is no less virtuous than watching a good film, play or musical. The problem seems to be with watching TV as a routine activity rather than a carefully chosen programme and so the arguments seem warped.

    In the hierarchy of sinful media it seems that video games are the worst, then television, and then cinema. Novels and theatre aren’t on the scale. No-one tutted when I was taken to the National by my English teacher to see the gore-fest that is Macbeth. And that was real 3-d people conducting very believable acts of violence a few feet away.

    At a historical re-creation in my teens, I remember chatting to a mother of two young children. She had got rid of the TV when her children were born and had been pleased that the toddlers were growing up peaceful and happy. Recently she said, her husband had taken the children to a medieval re-enactment that had featured jousting. She sighed as her youngest son galloped past us, twig masquerading as joust, endeavouring to impale any convenient passer-by. The next time I saw them, the TV had been re-instated.

    I’m going to persevere with Happiness, hopefully the economic sections will include more sophisticated positions than the Daily Mail-esque ‘TV as moral crisis’.

    Written by Karen

    July 15th, 2007 at 5:08 am

    the meaningful life is a playful one

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    This ramble through positive psychology, flow and signature strengths does finally bring me back to ia play.

    Seligman defined the Engaging Life as knowing what your signature strengths are, and then recrafting your life to use those strengths to have more flow in life.

    Beyond that he defines the Meaningful Life as using your signature strengths in the service of something that you believe is larger than you are.

    So this something bigger than me, it is just that life should be more fun, more playful. It doesn’t have to be so serious, does it?

    Work should be more playful. And for me that means information architecture should be more playful . I think it would probably work better that way.

    Related posts

    Written by Karen

    May 10th, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Posted in psychology,theory,work

    recrafting your work

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    hate your job? then get another one.

    For plenty of people that I know, changing your life and the way you feel about your work means getting a new job. There are many ways of changing your job and not all of them involve quitting. Quitting is dramatic but that’s the only action that you are taking control of. You are still relying on the world around you to improve and make you happier.

    Don’t have a cool job? Csikszentmihalyi makes a big deal about the happiest man he’s met being a welder. So choose what you want – a job everyone else thinks is cool or one that makes you happy.

    Signature strengths aren’t ‘programming’ or ‘horse-riding’ or ‘surgery’. Strengths like ‘zest’ and ‘social intelligence’ can be used in an awful lot of jobs. The key to ‘recrafting’ is that it is a bit about doing the same job differently and a lot about looking at the same job differently. It may ultimately mean quitting but it is about having a goal for your career that has very little to do with traditional career paths and promotion ladders.

    When did you last have fun at work? Problem with this question is the answers can be a bit trite and not really work-related (gossiping at the water cooler, when the boss was off).

    Much more interesting is when did you last experience flow at work? What were you doing? For me, this week, it was an utterly absorbing conversation. It was supposed to be half-an-hour catch-up in a local coffee shop. By the time we paused we had sat through an entire lunch rush and not noticed. The conversation was two and half hours. Classic flow.

    I was talking to a colleague who I think is a very smart guy, but I don’t always agree with straight off. We were talking about the future of our teams. We’ve been through some bad times and we were cheerfully wondering if we’re doomed or if there was stuff we could do about it.

    According to the authentic happiness questionnaire, my top signature strengths are

    • love of learning,
    • hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
    • judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
    • curiosity and interest in the world

    So you could say the conversation was quite so engaging because I was thinking optimistically about the future, showing curiousity, learning a different perspective, and subjecting it to critical thinking.

    When I think about I can remember quite a few other great conversations that share these properties. There’s plenty of ways I can productively do more of that in my day to day work. There are lots of people I ought to talk to more and plenty of them that have challenging perspectives.

    It isn’t all about changing the tasks. You can always recraft what happens in your head. The things you focus on. The story you tell yourself about your work and why you do it.

    Occasionally your work is fundamentally at odds with your signature strengths. You might have a problem if honesty is your big signature strength and you are working as a salesman for a product you don’t believe in. Sometimes you have to quit 🙂

    Written by Karen

    May 10th, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Posted in psychology,theory,work

    using your signature strengths to achieve flow

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    so the ‘engaging life’ route to happiness means using your signature strengths.

    Most of my experience of career coaching and training has taught me to focus on developing my weaknesses (or opportunities for development in training-speak) as these are likely to hold me back. Seligman doesn’t say we should forget about developing these weaknesses, just that our lives should be focused on our signature strengths

    Try the signature strengths questionnaire

    Your signature strengths are the things you are naturally good at. You can develop skills in other areas with application but it is much easier to get pleasure and satisfaction using these natural strengths than a ‘borrowed’ strength.

    So if you are struggling with your career rather than examining your weaknesses and looking to improve them, you should look at how you can re-craft your work to utilise your signature strengths. If this is possible it seems obvious that you are more likely to succeed at an approach that comes naturally to you. And you’ll have more fun along the way.

    This is the point when my team whinge at the me that this is all very well and good but they are being paid to do this stuff and the business doesn’t care if they would rather be doing ‘innovation’ cause that’s what Martin Seligman says would make them happy. Which is why we come to recrafting

    Written by Karen

    May 10th, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Posted in psychology,theory

    book: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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    I’ve been reading lots of Mihaly Csikszentmihayli (pronounced “ME-high CHICK-sent-me-high-ee”), famous for his concept of ‘flow’ , including Flow, Creativity and this interview in Wired.
    The basic concept is that “Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”. There has to be a balance between feeling challenged and feeling skillful (my parents first attempt to teach me and my husband Bridge left us feeling significantly more challenged than skillful).

    Games and play are often the epitome of flow, although flow can be different in that we don’t always consider it ‘fun’ at the time but it adds to our general well-being and sense of happiness about our lives. Video games in particular seem to achieve the timeless quality of the flow state.

    But it’s not all about leisure stuff. Work begins to be magical and not such a chore in those times when you experience flow. Those times when you look up and realise everyone else when home hours ago and the cleaners are irritated because you are getting in their way. I’ve got better over the years in identifying what types of stuff get that reaction from me and building my career around it. But I’m also interested in how we create those experiences for our colleagues using the tools we build and the consumers of our products.

    Written by Karen

    May 3rd, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Posted in psychology,theory

    book: Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

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    Authentic Happiness is one of my ‘beloved’ books. It isn’t directly about play and it certainly isn’t about information architecture but it overlaps in its advocacy of an approach to your (working) life to achieve greater engagement and happiness.

    It is written by Martin Seligman, a psychologist known for his work on the idea of ‘learned helplessness’, and his contributions to the field of Positive Psychology. The nice thing about “Positive psychology” is it is the study of optimal human functioning, focusing on mental wellness rather than mental illness, for once. Seligman’s book ‘Authentic Happiness’ covers his theories of how it is possible to be happier — “to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances”. And who is going to argue with that?

    He describes three approaches to happiness:

    the Pleasant Life (having as many pleasures as possible and having the savoring and mindfulness skills to amplify the pleasures)

    the Engaging Life (knowing what your signature strengths are, and then recrafting your work, love, friendship, leisure and parenting to use those strengths to have more flow in life)

    the Meaningful Life (using your signature strengths in the service of something that you believe is larger than you are)

    What I like about his definition of the engaging life (and the bit that is most useful in a professional sense) is the phrase ‘recrafting’. He doesn’t say ‘changing’ your work, he doesn’t insist you have to quit your desk job and become a poet. He says you have to recraft your work to use your signature strengths to achieve more flow. I want to talk about those three concepts: Flow, Signature Strengths, and Recrafting.

    Written by Karen

    May 1st, 2007 at 2:41 am

    Posted in psychology,theory,work