On Anthropology and User Experience Design

I get a few inquiries each semester from students looking for information on how to get into user experience design, especially those with an anthropology background. I generally try to respond to each of these separately as they each have their own perspective and needs, however, this semester I am trying to get my dissertation defended on top of my every day job as a UXD (which is getting more complicated by the minute). So, rather than leave these unanswered, I am providing a public response here that includes the most common things I share. If you have comments or questions, please leave them! It will be easier for me to respond to those here than individual emails and you may help someone else who has a similar inquiry.

Response Below

Thank you for reaching out to me. Let me start out by saying that having a background in anthropology will lend itself greatly to UX design, however, it is only one part. My suggestion is to consider opportunities where you will be asked to learn to program or script (even just HTML/CSS) and have real users use what you create. This is not necessarily where your career path as a UXD will take you, but creating something, having users use it, and then having to “fix” it to make it better for them, will provide you with insight that no degree program will ever do.

After that, I suggest looking into classes in cognitive psychology and information architecture or information behavior. Adding those to your anthropology perspective will help you find out what users want and then understand what they really need – which may be two separate things. 😉

As for internships, consider looking into the agency world. What I mean by that is marketing/creative agencies that do campaigns for other companies. Not that you want to go into marketing, I prefer the high tech/application world myself, but it allows you to see how UX is applied to multiple groups of people and projects in a short amount of time. A lot of times you can find UXD or IA (information architecture) opportunities – both of which would be beneficial to you.

I also suggest looking into these authors: Steve Krug, Don Norman, Jakob Nielsen, Jesse James Garrett, Luke Wroblewski, Lois Rosenfield, and Peter Morville (These are just off the top of my head, they will give you a good introduction to user experience design – but there are plenty more out there to learn from!)

And I suggest taking a look at the UX Slack channel that has UXers from all over the world lending their perspectives to the field (and it may lead to internship opportunities).

I hope that helps!

End Response

There is a lot that could be added to this, however, I feel it is a great place for people to start. I definitely recommend everyone going into user experience design have some sort of programming or scripting background where people have had to use what you create. My biggest failure as a developer led me to becoming a UXD and in my particular field I use skills I learned as a systems administrator/developer all the time. Not that I do those things anymore, but my past experiences and my understanding of those things definitely help inform me how to make those things easier for others to do. And really, that’s the best part of being an anthropologist and a UXD – being able to use your own experiences to inform your designs. That is, after all, what participant observation is all about!

To learn more about my professional experience, please visit my design and ethnography site.

p.s. This may be edited and updated as I have time. If you have questions/comments – please post them!

*Mic Check* Let’s see if this thing still works…

So, my last post was in February, and there is a very good reason for that. That was the month I got my IRB approval for my dissertation research and the same month my husband left for a nine-month tour in Korea. So, here I’ve been working full-time, being a full-time mom and working on my dissertation.

The working title for my information science dissertation so far is Understanding Parental Information Behavior in Assessing Video Game Content for their Children: An Ethnographic Study. I’ll be using ethnographic methods similar to the ones I used for my Masters thesis including both in-person and virtual semi-structured interviews with parents, an online survey, and observing parents shopping for video games. You can learn more about it at ResearchingVideoGames.

I’m currently analyzing my interviews and will be seeking approval IRB approval for my survey as the fall semester begins. If you are a parent of a child who plays video games and is between the ages of 4 and 17, feel free to email me at researchingvideogames [@] gmail in order to be notified when the survey becomes available. As a parent, you don’t have to be a gamer to participate.

I shall now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcasts!

What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

While you may have never asked yourself this question, you may have had friends or family that passed on and wondered what happens with their account now as it stands in tribute to their memory.

Facebook has recently released a feature that allows you to bequeath access to certain parts of your Facebook account (pinning a post, updating profile picture and cover photo) to a trusted friend or family member and the access is only granted to them after you have passed. You can access this option under Settings > Security > Legacy Contact.


Would you use this? Why or why not? Though it does grant someone else access to your account, it is somewhat limited and you can decide whether or not you want to allow your benefactor the ability to download your Facebook content.

Learn more about this new feature here.

Qualitative Remote User Research

Following on the heels of last weeks post on my UX Pyramid, I thought I’d talk more about the methods one can use to produce the information that would be used to create the deliverables mentioned in it.

I am an anthropologist first and foremost, so being able to use my anthropological methods in user research is important to me. This particular method uses journaling as a means to gain insights into what the user actually does in the system by having the user document what they do when they do it rather than trying to run them through various fabricated scenarios that we as designers might come up with. This allows us to really see the application (this could be software, games, mobile apps etc.) from their perspective rather than trying to force our perspective on them.

As a part of this process, we ask the user to not only document what they are doing, but also to provide screen shots and any other collateral that might be of note (such as information about another site that may do what they want in a better way).

With the information gathered in the journaling portion of the study, we are then able to provide the users with access to new tools or scenarios we are working on that they may be interested in using. This way we get better feedback as these are parts of the system these particular users actually use.

This research then allows for the segmentation of the user base not only by the type of user they are, but also by the way they use the system and the parts of the application they use the most. All of which provides ample information for personas, concepts, process flows, story boards, and wireframes.

Qualitative Remote Research

Qualitative Remote Research

UX Pyramid

Every now and then my work bleeds over into my blog here and this is one of those such occasions.

I was recently tasked with creating a slide deck to help spotlight all of the things that User Experience (UX) Design could do above and beyond wireframes. As a part of that process, I collapsed a previous slide deck I had crafted about 5 years ago into a single infographic. Though it is a stacked pyramid, it should be thought of more of a cycle. The pyramid was built to illustrate how giving a user experience design a solid foundation would help inform the experience throughout the entire design process, which starts well before any boxes and arrows are placed on a screen. Once you get to the top of the pyramid, the analysis of the design should feed back into the discovery process and reinform the strategy for improvements.

This is hardly news for most of us, however, I always enjoy a simple, concise, and useful infographic – so I thought others might as well. Please feel free to share and iterate on this. I always appreciate the feedback.

UX Pyramid

UX Pyramid

Today the Internet virtually slowed down

Screenshot 2014-09-10 13.01.24Or, at least several major sites wanted you to know what it might feel like if it were to slow down permanently due to what they say may result in Internet “fast lanes” where companies would be able to purchase the ability to have their sites served faster than others (ala, the Comcast/Netflix agreement made earlier this year). This would potentially disrupt what we’ve all come to know and love as the digital economy of the Internet.

Meaning, if another movie / tv streaming content provider tried to enter the market today without the ability to sign a similar agreement (if only because they were new) they would be unable to even attempt to compete and thus their service would fail before users ever had a chance to try something that may be better or more innovative than the current big kid on the block. While even without net neutrality, enforcing payments like this (rather than the two companies voluntarily entering an agreement) would be legally hard to do today due to current antitrust laws, that doesn’t mean the little guy still wouldn’t find itself in a precarious situation – but perhaps that’s as it should be given the ups and downs of the digital economy.

What is the impetuous behind this? Well, the telecom infrastructure in America is largely owned and maintained by private businesses including but not limited to Level 3 Communications, TeliaSonera International Carrier, CenturyLink, Vodafone, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T. You might recognize the last three as companies from which you purchase your Internet connectivity. It is in their interest to make a profit. But, from what they tell us, it is hard to do that while maintaining and innovating on the infrastructure at the same time.

To my understanding (which could be wrong, I am not a networking expert – feel free to correct me), companies are fighting against the need to use a standard which treats all data the same regardless of what is being carried (i.e. TCP/IP). As an alternative, each company would able to create their own innovations that would help their own networks move data along without that technology necessarily being shared with everyone else. Without chiming in on one side of the debate or the other, this could be very good for consumers in the long run as competition in this area would drive innovation further and further.

The fear is that while competition has somewhat driven the cost to connect down on the consumer side, these companies must find another way to make profits and are looking toward the providers of digital goods as a potential revenue option. To that end, many see these infrastructure companies’ waves against net neutrality as an attempt to charge content providers money to ensure their data reaches their customers as fast as possible. This idea is comparable to a tollway company claiming their roads need maintenance and thus charging stores along the tollway, that have no other way to access them, extra fares to make sure consumers can access the offramps to those stores without delay, while also collecting money from the consumers themselves in order for them to gain access to the tollway in the first place. However, as I said above, this would be difficult to do given the antitrust laws currently in place.

While I am not standing on one side or the other, I hope I’ve been able to some what enlighten people as to what the big deal is and I hope I have shed some light on the topic that is not as black and white as most of us have been lead to believe. The lesson to be learned, as with most things on the Internet, is issues such as these aren’t always necessarily as they first appear and a little research goes a long way. This is especially so where government and technology intertwine.

Time Warner Down

20140827twdown People across the US are waking up this morning to the fact that Time Warner Cable is down. Apparently it’s not just their network that is down either. Their own website is also down and there are reports that no one is answering calls into Time Warner either.

Screenshot 2014-08-27 00.38.09

Screenshot 2014-08-27 00.36.23

From the spike in reports shown above, it looks like the majority started happening just before midnight HST or 6am EST.

Timing is everything of course. I just cancelled my cable TV today and am now apart of a massive Internet outage. I’m sorry?

There is already speculation as to whether TWC is the latest target of the recent DDOS attacks. I expect more answers will come soon enough, but it’s nearly 1am here in the middle of the Pacific and I have a 8am meeting. Let’s just hope my Internet is up by then as I work from home…

Internet Gaming brought to a halt by DDOS

Several gaming news outlets are reporting on the recent gaming outages brought on by a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack (PCGamer, Joystiq, VentureBeat | GamesBeat) perpetrated by a group calling themselves Lizard Squad. This all came to a head when the SOE (Sony Online Entertainment) President’s plane was diverted due to a bomb threat made by the same group claiming responsibility for the DDOS attacks (Gamespot, Polygon).

I’ll be following this story and making updates on it as it progresses since the FBI is now involved due to the nature of the bomb threat.

Games that were affected by the attack are as follows:
Blizzard.net games including World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Starcraft, Hearthstone
Sony Online Entertainment including Play Station Network
League of Legends
Path of Exile

Were you affected by the outage? Feel free to comment or contact me to let me know about your experience.

Dealing with being a digital packrat

Screenshot 2014-08-18 12.44.28

My laptop only has a 750G hard drive which is quickly filling up. So, I spent all weekend cleaning it up and moving files to my Mac Mini server. One of my biggest headaches is my photo and music libraries. I’ve had iPhoto and iTunes since they existed. (The first iPod was a portable firewire hard drive that also played music! I couldn’t pass that up. I’ve also been taking digital photos since digital cameras came onto the market, which means I have tons of pictures.) This has lead to my libraries growing wildly rampant and becoming totally out of control.

So, rather than dealing with the headache that comes with trying to fix it all manually, I found a software solution to help out and I highly recommend them: http://www.fatcatsoftware.com/

My biggest deal was moving files off of my laptop and on to my server, but still having them easily accessible from my laptop. I have multiple iTunes libraries due to having multiple computers over the years and backing up to different computers at different times. These can be difficult to manage and lead to missing (orphaned) files. Powertunes found all my random files and now my phone (which I had to replace a couple of months ago) has all my relevant music back on it! (Only took a full day to copy it all over, but that was all iTunes.)

I also wanted to break up my iPhoto library into smaller ones so I could archive parts off. While splitting up over 20 thousand photos and videos has taken a long time – it’s totally worth it. Next on my list will be to tackle my resources library. I think I’m finally going to bite the bullet and buy Adobe CC education edition while I still can. Then I’m going to use the updated Bridge to organize my my 15gb of digital resources. If you have any other recommendations for organizing digital assets locally, please leave a comment!

Facebook Messenger and You

My readers, please take a moment to read all of the TOS in every single social app you have downloaded and used over the last year. This includes all of the updated TOS you automatically agree to because you’ve already had it installed. They ALL ask for some setting you’re not going to be comfortable with if you are caught up in the hysteria over the new FB messenger application.

If you are not installing the FB messenger app because of the latest and greatest in sensationalist headlines, then you should follow through and uninstall every single other app that utilizes any of your social networks (twitter, tumblr, instagram, skype etc). After you’ve done that, you should revoke all access of those applications to each other (i.e. any app that is connected to your Facebook account).

Then, if you really want to protect your privacy, you will delete your Facebook account altogether, along with every other social network profile you’ve ever created. Just don’t forget those companies still own all of the data you gave them over the last 10 years (if you’ve been on FB as long as I have). You already sold it to them when you signed up and they can do whatever they want with it whenever they want to. Most importantly, it’s their business to do just that.

If you would like an alternative, try Facebook Texting:
Screenshot 2014-08-10 10.03.45

It is accessible via Facebook Settings (easiest way to access it is to click on the lock in the header next to the updates icon and go to “See more settings”).