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No, It's Not Guernica. Posted on 06/17/2001.

Interfacility's approach to Team-Based Ethnography utilizes an artifact called The Mural(PDF), a tool for bringing together a variety of user-related information (ethnographic data, stories, personae, scenarios, workflows, etc.) in one place. Experience has taught me that Large Things On Walls are really powerful in the design process--they help see the totality in a single space, they foment conversation, and they encourage manipulation, moving things around until it feels right. I think Marijke's definitely on to something here.

7 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "The Winerization of Evan."
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Three brief comments:

1. As you know, I am not an adherent of the School of Large Things on Walls. Nothing in this document has persuaded me to change my position on the subject.

2. How one uses a thing is not the same as what it is. At the end of the paper, I had no clearer picture of The Mural than I did when I started.

3. If one is striving for a sense of authoritativeness, Comic Sans is probably not a good font choice.
Posted by jjg @ 06/17/2001 07:38 PM PST [link to this comment]

Jesse James makes an interesting comment about authoritativeness, helping me to realize that I'm not much interested in it--whether it is 1) the authoritativeness of conclusions reached in established user research methodologies; 2) the authoritativeness of this particular methodology; or 3) my own authoritativeness (and by extension the authoritativeness of designers, researchers, information architects, and any others of our ilk).

I'm much more interested in finding ways to keep an open mind, finding ways to get work done without forgetting users, and decentering "experts." (Let's face it, us web consultants, us in the interactive design agencies . . . we are the gods of yesteryear. We may be smart, but we weren't smart enough. Time to give up some of the pretense.)

One of the ways in which agencies have not served their clients as well as they deserved lies in the failure to adapt to the need for speed. The Team-Based Ethnography and the Mural technique is an attempt to provide a tool to groups of people (note: not individuals) to work smarter and faster and have more fun doing it. I'd love to hear from anyone who can tell me something about how well it does that.

Posted by Marijke @ 06/17/2001 09:47 PM PST [link to this comment]

I'd like to know more about JJG's opposition to 'large things on walls' (henceforth LTOW).

Personally I'm a fan, as they democratise input to design work (non-designers seem to be more encourage to scrawl/move/around/engage-and-converse with LTOW) and on the other hand they encourage designers to think more about the reasoning behind their design for some reason (something about exhibition at large scale... it seems to force clarity and simplicity - reducing the padding and noise that sometimes even with the best will in the world creeps into smaller scale 'deliverables')

JJG - i'd love to hear your experiences.
Posted by Matt @ 06/18/2001 05:44 AM PST [link to this comment]

Hrm. I find jjg's post oddly dismissive. "The Mural" isn't meant to persuade. If you don't already utilize the value of Large Things on Walls, it won't mean much. As someone whose best team design work occurred when there were LTOW, I think a framework like The Mural could help structure the documents that typically just get tacked up willy-nilly.

Now, I've seen Marijke talk about The Mural, so I might have an understanding of the tool that people simply reading the doc would not.
Posted by peterme @ 06/18/2001 09:06 AM PST [link to this comment]

Regarding LTOWs in general:

- My experience has been that design teams use LTOWs to club clients over the head with their ideas, rather than engage them in the process. Yes, this is directly counter to Matt's experience, but this is precisely my point: LTOWs are not a Universal Good.

- LTOWs can imbue questionable ideas with an air of legitimacy. Blowing the deliverable up real big can obscure flaws just as easily as it can magnify them. In fact, obfuscation may actually be easier.

- To some extent it's a forest vs. trees problem. If you're having trouble seeing the forest, a LTOW, judiciously applied, can help. If you're having trouble seeing the trees, a different solution is more likely to succeed.

Now as for this particular LTOW: The message of The Mural seems to be "one big deliverable is better than lots of little ones". But any deliverable (and most especially a big one) is really only as effective as its structure, and it is this structure that remains unclear to me after reading this paper.
Posted by jjg @ 06/18/2001 12:45 PM PST [link to this comment]

Aaah! Now I think I understand. The Mural is my deliverable to a client when I do a Team-Based Ethnography. But it is not a deliverable in any other sense of the word. In fact, it is the beginning of the work, not the end. And it is so large only to allow everybody to contribute to the results--in order to draw their knowledge into the process and in order to draw them into the process. The particular structure of any implementation of the Mural is not inherent in the Mural, but takes its cue from the particular challenges that seem to present themselves for any project.

And the only thing I ever try to club anyone over the head with is the idea that it is too early to draw conclusions. All findings are provisional all the time, not in the least because people change.
Posted by Marijke @ 06/18/2001 09:19 PM PST [link to this comment]

I've been an advocate of LTOW for well, a long time. And I've promised Peter to make an old presentation available on the subject. Maybe this will give me the kick in the procrastination gland I've been needing.

Reading this thread, I realize it's not so much the Largeness of the Things on the Walls that I value. It's Making Things Together as a team, and having the work be public and persistent through the project. A visible, concrete team memory (as opposed to an invisible, virtual team memory sitting on file servers) changes the way we work. It helps a group build a common language, and helps turn meetings into work sessions.

Most often, especially during the early stages of a project, this means Walls Covered With Small Things (WCWST), or Small Things Stuck To Large Things On The Walls (STSTLTOTW).

I went around one day and took pictures of everything up on the walls around the office, then turned it into a little show-and-tell presentation. That's what I've been meaning to put up. It won't help address the real subject underlying this one--shared / co-created conceptual models--but at least it will provide a few more specific examples.
Posted by Marc Rettig @ 06/20/2001 10:53 AM PST [link to this comment]

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