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Video for Inquiry in Creative Practice: Depth of Field

IDEO Book Project


Today we’re going to explore the use of video as a form of inquiry – and valuable tool – in your creative practice.

First, building upon John Bowers’ earlier session on Ethnography,  we’ll consider Video Ethnography and I’ll introduce you to a technique for using video to support ethnographic methods.

Second, we’ll consider Video for Protoyping, exploring, and communicating ideas, and as a material and sensor.

In closing we’ll talk about the value of Video for Reflexivity in creative practice, as a means of documentation and critical reflection.

Using Video: Tools to Hand

There’ll be a quick recap on what filming and editing resources are available to you at Culture Lab.

Video for Inquiry in creative practice means using video to take inspiration from the world you live in, to study the world, be curious about it.

Recall the creative strategy from last autumn, to reflexively draw upon your lived experience to help guide you in your practice.  You can also draw on the experiences of others, and relate that to your own.

Ethnography (after Bowers) is the systematic, empirical study of people and cultures – study in the world, as life is lived.  Way of articulating research issues, conduct and relevancies (noteworthy) for you — shaping your perception of the world.

The ethnographer tries to take the perspective of the subject of study, and representing the subject in the documentation produced (historically, a written account).

An ethnographic study should always be reflexive – i.e. involve an empathetic connection and self awareness on the part of the researcher to ‘understand the other’.

Ethnographic methods are field based, conducted in the settings in which real people actually live, rather than in laboratories where the researcher controls the elements of the behaviours to be observed or measured. They may involve regular, on-going engagement with the subject of study, and require commitment, sometimes immersion.

Video Ethnography

Video Ethnography involves the observational filming of subjects in their natural setting, and analysis of the footage through video production, in order to experience, interpret, and represent culture and society. Ethnographic inquiry is made through filming, editing and directing the video.

Video as a sensing medium is great for observing practitioners – people doing things (e.g. at work, doing skilled craft, performing, engaging in everyday routine activity).

  • Observation including the filming of practitioners
  • Reviewing recorded material with practitioners for reflexive discussion on practice
  • Transforming practice through practitioner-led change

Key reference: Sarah Pink. Doing Visual Ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2007

Doing Video Ethnography

Video ethnography can be used for collecting data (e.g. observational data, interview data) for qualitative analysis.  Video analysis can involve editing and storytelling in production.

Use creative approaches:

  • E.g. Storytelling

Use technical skill & good practice:

  • In filming
  • In editing and production
  • In having ethical sensibilities

Engage with real world experiences for:

  • Fostering empathy, understanding
  • Finding inspiration
  • Understanding live as lived

Video data can be used for:

  • People-centred approach to design
  • Creative practice grounded in understanding real-world experiences
  • Fostering novel perspectives for empathy and inspiration
  • Reflection and ideation

Co-discovery technique for doing video ethnography

  • Researchers film participants in context of everyday life (multiple field visits)
  • Observational footage is reviewed by researcher, relevancies are highlighted in edit
  • Edited footage is presented back to participants to review with researcher
  • Video is a stimulus for researchers and participants to discuss footage
  • Shared as a stimulus for dialogue, reflection on the subject & setting
  • Participants are invited to adopt novel perspectives on their lives
  • Researchers & participants illuminate instances of potential significance
  • Participants’ reflections direct the researcher’s final edit
  • Editing as analysis, generating insights
  • Final video edit is easily shareable with others whilst retaining a ‘closeness’ to the original data and experience.
  • Video as valuable, documentation that also captures reflection.

The participants are trying to make sense of their world;

The researcher is trying to make sense of the participants trying to make sense of their worlds.

We’ll talk through a case study example.

This technique involves research with people, not on people, to co-discover:

  •   how people living in a real-world context (behaviour, experience)
  •   what people see themselves doing
  •   people’s reasons for their actions
  •   articulated and latent needs and desires to inform creative practice

Ethnographic inquiry is made through filming, editing and directing the video.

Design documentaries

  Researchers employ film-makers to interpret a designed artefact/ artwork

  •   Take inspiration from documentary film techniques
  •   Gain additional perspectives, interpretations (Recall the creative strategy: defamiliarisation.)

  Use film-makers to engage with prototypes ‘in the wild’ 

  •   Focus on everyday life, leaving the ‘erratic and elusive intact’
  •   Documentary as a resource for reflection, evaluation, and ideation

Example: The Plane Tracker by Interaction Studio, Goldsmiths College

Key reference: Bas Raijmakers. Design Documentaries. Proceedings of DIS 2006, ACM Press.

See also: and The Plane Tracker for examples of Design Documentaries.

Video for Prototyping

Now we turn to consider video as a material and mechanism to prototype, to communicate.

Video is very effective for documenting a creative process. Video documention enables you to quickly and effectively communicate the development of ideas, and how a designed artefact or artwork functions.

See case example of BONNER & BERG CONCEPT VIDEO For a digital magazine layout, on YouTube (2009): MAG+

The concept aims to capture the essence of magazine reading, which people have been enjoying for decades: an engaging and unique reading experience in which high-quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories. The concept uses the power of digital media to create a rich and meaningful experience, while maintaining the relaxed and curated features of printed magazines. It has been designed for a world in which interactivity, abundant information and unlimited options could be perceived as intrusive and overwhelming.”

When documenting a creative process:

  • Be mindful of good pacing in presentation of material
  • Interleave demonstrations of use with description of concepts
  • Provide appropriate level of detail for intended audience
  • Devise a well structured storyline
  • Make effective use of visual explanation

We just talked about how video can be used to document designs. Video can also be used for experience prototyping because it affords us a means to effectively and engagingly explore the ways in which a technology might be used, without needing to implement it.

Both user interactions and the relationships of individual technologies to larger systems can be explored through video without needing to fully develop those technologies or systems.

See case example of Sketch-a-Move by Anab Jain and Louise Klinker.

And for exploring multiple interpretations of potentially controversial or future design proposals (e.g. for Design Fictions).

After Yvonne Spielmann, video can be seen as a flexible electronic medium/material that can be used in many different ways (e.g. documentary, experimental art, and experimental image-making).

Key reference: Yvonne Spielmann. Video: The Reflexive Medium. 2007, MIT Press.

Video for Reflection

[Discussion / reflection on videos we’ve already made.]

In closing we discuss strategies/tips for critically evaluating your own video documentation.

To wrap up, video documentation is a powerful tool for critical reflection on your creative practice and on the creative practice of others. It is also a powerful communication tool that can enable others to reflect on ideas and designs/artworks that you make – and to help these live and proliferate in the world.


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