Reporting and Images by Ciara Taylor
The Design Research Conference kicked off at IIT in Chicago with five half-day workshops. Conference attendees had the option to choose one of the following courses: Building Confidence in Design Sketching, Improv as a Tool for Prototyping, Research Photography, What4: Frame Stretching and Groundhog Day. Although I was able to see a portion of each, I spent most of my time in the Research Photography workshop hosted by Ben McAllister and Amber Lindholm of frog's Austin, Texas branch. This workshop promised to be interactive and dynamic, taking participants outside the classroom to apply the techniques learned in the workshop to the world around them.
Ben and Amber touched on the fundamentals of photography in research. This included tips on the interaction between the researcher and the user. More specifically, how to obtain permission to take someone's photo without losing the moment as well as the importance of keeping the camera visible so that you do not make your subject feel scared or dehumanized. A variety of techniques were also discussed such as photos as research data and, using photos to elicit stories or provoke thought. They also reviewed more technical photography topics, and made suggestions as to what type of lens to use, aperture settings, exposure, flash, and composition. Some key tips worth highlighting are: use a 50mm lens, do not rely on flash, utilize natural light and rely on your aperture and exposure to capture a great photo.
We walked down to the nearby Occupy Chicago demonstration to do some field research and put our new skills to the test. This was a unique opportunity for the attendees, as well as myself, to be able to do a field study in a political environment that is being demonstrated nationwide. This activity allowed workshop attendees to engage with a set of subjects in an environment that did not constrain their behavior as a lab setting might. Successfully capturing the experience in a photograph would be beneficial in helping the researcher to understand the protester's story. The workshop participants interviewed protesters, took photographs of the happenings at the protest, and gained insight into the protesters motives, telling a story through the photographs they took of the event. The image above shows a workshop participant interacting with a protester during the workshop activity session.
We returned to the IIT campus to conclude the workshop with presentations of the participant's findings. Overall, the workshop attendees were excited about the opportunity to improve their photography skills, test out the skills they learned during the workshop, and gain feedback from peers and other professionals. Although this may not be groundbreaking methodology, research photography is a great tool to capture the user in their natural environment as an alternative to a focus group or interview conducted in a formal research setting. A single image can produce discussion and help us gain perspective throughout our research, the same way the participants were able to during the Research Photography workshop.
About Ciara Michelle Taylor
Ciara Michelle Taylor studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received a BFA with an emphasis in Designed Objects. Taylor is a conceptual designer whose interests include user interaction and social behavior in online gaming, and how they can inform the physical world and the design of tangible objects. Her work focuses on identity, human interaction and virtual environments, exploring the relationship that people develop with the real world and the virtual.