UX Reading Reflection, Week 8

Anthropology, Inc.

Graeme Wood’s Anthropology, Inc. for The Atlantic was a stimulating introduction to the practice of corporations like Coca Cola and Pernod Ricard USA  to hire ReD, a research firm that specializes in field studies, to get qualitative data so they can understand consumers better. My former ad agency, DDB was doing this in the 1980s and I imagine its competitors were too. I’m not sure of the academic qualifications of all our researchers, but I found their presentations on topics like children’s opinions of their closets’ contents and conditions to be fascinating. 

When Wood described the home party in the beginning of the article, I immediately wondered about the ethics. How would I feel about being studied at a party so that I might buy more Absolut vodka? How would the guests feel after reading this article? Not only were they studied, the party was then reported so there’s a double lens through which the party and drinking behavior was recorded. It’s both interesting and creepy.

I felt conflicted about the process. On the one hand, I love discovering new insights and would find this work fascinating. On the other, I value privacy and feel our world is getting more and more like the setting of the novel WE, a futuristic world where all rooms and buildings have windows for walls. I agree with the academics who point out that without a code of ethics research can be harmful. It can also be flawed as Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that when behavior is observed, it’s different.

ReD’s six hour long interviews sound like an endurance test, as well as a major imposition. Most participants will opt out of such a long interview so I wonder if the subjects who agree are representative. I would hope that those commissioning the research would take the results with a grain of salt.

The parts of the article that described Chinese group-orientation was half-right. Yes, Chinese person’s and other Asians’ circle of concern is wider than the stereotypical Westerner’s, but it isn’t all-encompassing. There’s a bright, sharp boundary. Most observers would note that Chinese people tend to think in terms of their in-group rather than their individual self. An “outsider” is not someone whose welfare is important, whereas though Western consumers may emphasize self, communal generosity or justice is a value. So the anthropologists who note this communal/individual dichotomy aren’t engaged in good scientific observation. Wood’s article would have been stronger had he mentioned this shortcoming. Since The Atlantic frequently features perceptive reporting on China, I’d expect its writers not to write from inside a silo.

I wish Wood had included some information answering the question of “To what extent do today’s cultural anthropologists exoticize their  subjects?” There seems to be an inherent trap of dramatizing their findings or emphasizing the behaviors that seem different. A mixture of P.T. Barnham’s “Give the people, (e.g. client) what they want” and the practice of “orientalizing” behavior so the client feels they’ve paid for treasure rather than the expected. Wood was a bit guilty of hyping his article in this way as his examples of the Orthodox Jewish subject and the lesbian drinking party are more exotic than a mundane middle class family of four. While all groups should be studied, the way the findings are delivered should not be fashioned to dazzle or entertain the client. We all should be leery of how and what Madison Avenue presents to us. I think Wood should have been a bit more skeptical than he was.

An interesting read, “Anthropology, Inc.” calls attention to the business world’s growing use of social science to understand and market to consumers.

Getting to Know Your Patrons

“Getting to Know Your Patrons” provides methods and rationale for conducting field research or contextual research even in libraries with small staffs and limited resources. After reading about PhDs who conduct qualitative behavioral research, it was freeing to understand that doesn’t need the academic expertise ReD’s researchers have, to conduct a study that yields important insights.

Smaller libraries may think they must forego such significant work since they don’t have a dedicated staff that specializes in UX. That’s not the case. By organizing staff to do short observations and showing the sort  of descriptions that are useful, this article prepared me to do my first contextual inquiry.


Schmidt, A. (2011, June 1). Getting to Know Your Patrons. Library Journal, Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2011/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/getting-to-know-your-patrons-the-user-experience/

Wood, G. (2013, March). Anthropology Inc. The Atlantic, Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/anthropology-inc/309218/

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Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 9.10.05 PM

After watching The Man in Gray, I figured I ought to check out Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. I’d heard of the novel, but thought the story was merely a critique of corporate commuters and life in the suburbs. It’s mentioned in a few textbooks I’ve had to read and it seemed like it was a satire.

Not at all. At least the movie isn’t.

Tom Rath (Peck) has been back from WWII for 10 years. His wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) wants a bigger home. She’s impatient with Tom exhorting him to strive more. Though he’s satisfied at his non-profit job, he sees that the bills will be easier to pay if he makes more. A fellow commuter lines him up with an interview at an ad agency. Since he resembles the CEO’s son, who died in WWII, he gets the job.

Memories of the war, of killing brutally, of a woman he loved there, haunt Tom. His children are zombies glued to the TV and his wife while not a nag, does complain a lot. All through this Tom navigates the ad business, learning how to read people and tell them what they want to hear. Yet he’s got too much natural integrity to keep up the game. Problems with his new house, the after effects of the war and his job, grow. Yet Tom meets them with heroism.

Peck’s performance is good. Tom Rath isn’t Atticus Finch, but he is a straight-shooter by the end. Thought one daughter had a funny preoccupation with death, the two other children were more or less extras. Childhood in this suburb was pure television addiction and chicken pox.

The film has an interesting realism that made me wonder how autobiographical the novel might be.

Travel Theme: Purple

Bangkok, Jim Thompson's House

Bangkok, Jim Thompson’s House

Malaysia, mall in K.L.

Malaysia, mall in K.L.

Kaifeng, at a temple

Kaifeng, at a temple

This week Ailsa’s challenging bloggers to share photos that are purple, my favorite color. Here’s one of the light show downtown. It’s one of the highlights of life in Jinan. All ages come by to enjoy the music, lights and dancing water.

To see more purple, click here.

Journey Map Assignment


Here’s this week’s homework for my Library UX course. We had to go to a library and write a step by step map including a shorthand method of showing how patrons, i.e. me in this case, felt during each part of the experience.

I was inspired by some of Rachel’s choices for previous assignments so I decided to visit the Newberry Library, an independent private library with a collection featuring lots of rare materials on American Indian (sic)  culture, the Renaissance, local history, genealogy and maps.  Since I’d never done research here, I was a bit nervous but also excited. I expected many of the procedures to be different and I knew that patrons did not have access to the books and materials, but didn’t know how that experience would feel, which is why I chose this library.

Journey Map



You can view the full size document here. While it was a bit more intimidating to research at the Newberry than at the Chicago History Museum, the Newberry has primary documents the Chicago History Museum lacks (and vice versa). The Newberry librarians were cordial, but not as helpful as at the Chicago History Museum. Both have rare materials, which are irreplaceable, but the Newberry’s security was tighter.

I think the Newberry should offer more help and show more interest in patron’s research, particularly first time visitors. Since patron’s must state their research area on the request forms, it’s not as though research privacy is a reason why librarians don’t interview patrons more thoroughly.

When a librarian or page delivers a book, she should be warmer and more cordial. Getting a reader’s card form on one floor and having to go to another to submit it seemed inconvenient. After examining the rationale for that arrangement and the functions of each floor, the library should streamline this procedure.


Pirates of Penzance


Northwestern’s offering a fine production of The Pirates of Penzance weekends through August 3rd. The singing, dancing, and costumes equalled a lot of professional theaters in Chicago. Strong performances all around and you can tell the performers loved getting into the spirit of this show.

The drawback for me was the story, which was just silly without well-drawn characters. Perhaps in another era this worked, but I never got into the whimsical story. Yet the pace is fast and the singing was good so there was enough to like. Not enough to keep my mind from seeing implausibilities, but enough to like.

At least now I can check “seeing a Gilbert & Sullivan” show off my list.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced. 2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag. 3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other great photos:

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody (r) and Sherman

Mr. Peabody (r) and Sherman (l)

When I was growing up I loved watching Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s cartoons as they traveled to various historical events. Now all the kids who have no idea who this famed pair is can see Mr. Peabody, the genius dog, and his boy Sherman right wrongs throughout time and space. The film, which I saw on a plane, captures the heart and soul of the original. Bravo!

The film moves quickly and is witty enough for adults and offers history with a spoonful of sugar for the young. I’m telling everyone I see that they should check this out whether they have kids or not. It’s just a fun film.

Jazzin’ at the Shedd


Since it’s so expensive (usually $36 for adults) I haven’t been to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium in years. Probably 35 years. But a friend enticed me to try the Wednesday night “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” experience, which is just $18.

In the summer the Shedd Aquarium is open evenings from 5 – 10pm and visitors can listen to jazz while exploring the intriguing sea creatures that call the Shedd home. Food stations and bars are located throughout the museum so visitors can enjoy dinner or cocktails. We ate outside by the lake on the terrace where the view was stunning.

You can touch the starfish, which are simultaneously spiky and slimy. After sundown (8:30 or so) you can see the fireworks from Navy Pier.

I thought the food was mediocre. There were several choices of Cajun fare: chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, jumbalaya, etc. My sandwich was okay. It isn’t the healthiest or tastiest meal you can find. I’d actually bring a bit of food with me if I went back.

All ages were in attendance. It’s great for a families, friends or dates.

You can get a 130 bus from Union Station or a 146 bus from downtown. Cabs were hard to come when you’re leaving.

Parking is available nearby, but it’s gotten pricey.

New Mexico

DSC_0109 Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Albuquerque, New Mexico



Poem of the Week

Portrait of Alexander Pope

Portrait of Alexander Pope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


by Alexander Pope
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter, fire.

Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind;
Quiet by day.

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixed, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

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