Monday, November 13, 2006

Experientia interviews Anne Kirah

Understanding how a design anthropologist effects user centered design at Microsoft ...

"Anne Kirah (bio) is senior design anthropologist at Microsoft’s MSN Customer Design Centre. In this interview, she talks on the importance of taking off your blinders and focusing on the real lives of real people. She discusses her work at Microsoft and her latest challenges.

How did you start your work as an anthropologist for Microsoft?

When they hired me eight years ago as the first official anthropologist, they weren’t sure what to do with me, so they had me design my own job. I soon realised that Microsoft had until then the tendency to come up with feature and product designs within the confines of its own walls. Microsoftees just didn’t have much of an idea what real people in their everyday and not so everyday lives were doing. After all, I think it is just as important to understand people who are not using technology as it is to understand people who are using technology when you are meant to be building products or services that are meaningful, relevant and useful to people in their everyday and not so everyday lives. What went on in the minds of Microsoft’s brilliant software engineers and of people outside the walls of Microsoft, was not always very congruent. So I created the Real People Real Data (RPRD) programme for Windows XP’s development cycle.

... So you don’t focus on particular types of applications?

The data my team collects are holistic. It is not for any one product, be it service enterprise related or consumer related. It is related to the real lives of real people, not to market segmentation. I can easily get annoyed with market segmentation that is purely built on averages and superficial field research. There are plenty of people out there calling themselves ethnographers who do work that is of dangerously poor quality. Of course, we can argue the same for nearly all disciplines. But I am obviously only one person and therefore tend to focus on areas that can have impact for as many people as possible.

How has the user-focused process evolved since?

Let me first say that I never speak about users. Did you wake up this morning defining yourself as a user? No. Maybe you woke up with an alarm clock, so you are an employee. Maybe you woke up with a baby, so you are a father. Maybe you woke up with your wife or lover, which makes you a spouse or a lover. But you sure as hell didn’t wake up and say: good morning world, I am a USER. If we create jargon to deal with our research, then we are no better than the engineers and anyone else who doesn’t speak the language of everyday people in their everyday lives and not so everyday people in their not so everyday lives or any combination thereof. The kind of innovation I am involved with means changing the cultures at work by speaking the same language and culture as the people the company is innovating for."    (Continued via Experientia)    [Usability Resources]

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