Interact with these doodles to jump to the topic in the video

00:00:09 Hi everyone I m Kadambari Sahu. I'm the head of design at Value Labs. Design Inspire is

00:00:14 the web series of passionate innovative and young inspiring designers. The web series

00:00:19 dive into their passion inspiration and what makes them go. It's an effort to understand

00:00:25 how they are navigating their career path and how they are investing their creative

00:00:29 energies. We believe hearing their bold moves and inspiring stories that will ignite interest

00:00:34 and inspired the next generation of budding designers across the globe. So let's go forward.

00:00:39 Hello everyone welcome to design inspire. Our today's guest is Vyjayanthi Vaderu is

00:00:44 an ethnographer and consultant under her brand, Rasa, In New York City. Most recently she

00:00:49 is applying her ethnography skills at the Lab at Capital One, using customer experiences

00:00:54 as fodder for product innovation in the banking and credit card space. She is also an adjunct

00:00:59 professor of Applied Anthropology at the City University of New York. She has been a dancer

00:01:05 for 25+ years, trained in Indian classical dance (Bharatanatyam, odissi, Kathak). She

00:01:10 been building on the art of expression and the art of studying what it means to be human

00:01:16 (anthropology) to explore fictional writing and performance, particularly in observational

00:01:20 comedy space. Welcome Vayjayanthi. How are you doing today?

00:01:23 Doing well. How are you? I'm good. Let me talk a little bit about the

00:01:29 format of this show. As a piece of what are going to do is the first part, the 20 minutes

00:01:33 would be anything that you're passionate about. Any presentation, any stories that you want

00:01:38 to share with us, the later part would be me. And you can, we're saying on topic of,

00:01:42 you know, the life of a designer in your case, research and anthropologists. And you know,

00:01:47 how things are in terms of like, how do you inspire and motivate? So that will be more

00:01:51 in the life of a designer or a creative person. So let's go forward. We're very excited to

00:01:58 hear stories from you over to you Vayjayanthi Thank you so much. So I wanted to start with

00:02:06 a story about my first teaching experience, teaching applied anthropology. The first day

00:02:12 of class, I asked students, why are you studying anthropology? A few students raised their

00:02:17 hand and said, because I majored in it a few students, Left the class dropped the class

00:02:22 that day. And then one student in particular said very confidently. I have no idea what

00:02:28 anthropology is. I'm just here because it sounded cool. So that student, became well,

00:02:36 they're all my favorites, but became one of my, prize students because, The student went

00:02:42 from not really understanding what anthropology was and the simplest way I'd like to explain

00:02:47 it as anthropology is the study of what it means to be human there's many branches. I'm

00:02:53 going to focus on the cultural anthropology aspect of this. So I'm teaching this class.

00:02:58 How do you apply anthropology in the real world? And, the student definitely kept me

00:03:02 on my toes. A lot of sarcastic. The comments? It was amazing. Definitely wanted to establish

00:03:08 themselves as the comedian of the class. And, it wasn't until. COVID hit in New York City

00:03:16 and the pen. And we became the epicenter of the pandemic that the student really realized

00:03:22 the value and how widespread the practice application and even philosophy of anthropology

00:03:28 could be applied. So I asked them, you know, I said, let's take a breather. You know, this

00:03:32 is not about class anymore. But use what you've learned in class so far. And talk to me about

00:03:39 how this pandemic, how, the environment of COVID has affected you personally. And this

00:03:47 student went and, thought about it for a little while and in their paper wrote about how their

00:03:54 family, in spite of having some cases in their family insisted on going to church and the

00:04:01 student so far had never realized how religious. Their family was nor how deeply ingrained

00:04:08 their norms and beliefs were until this incident. The student was very upset. The student said,

00:04:16 I, I respect my religion. I respect my spirituality, but I didn't realize that the culture of,

00:04:24 my religion could override the, the, the value of health itself. So that was one very pivotal

00:04:31 moment in the student's life. And perspective. And then since then the student said, well,

00:04:38 I don't want to be an anthropologist, but I do want to apply anthropology to the world

00:04:44 of finance. So when we were doing due diligence on investments, I can use, I could go beyond

00:04:51 the quantitative and use qualitative, observational methods. To help my team to help us find the

00:05:00 most lucrative investments to find the most intelligent investments. And I will also have

00:05:06 an edge over others. So this was, this was my experience in teaching anthropology and

00:05:14 it was, it was really great because I've, I feel that there's. There's really no, corner

00:05:23 that anthropology can't touch, you know, so this is, this is why, it renewed a sense of

00:05:30 why I fell in love with the subject, why I continue to practice it, but I've definitely

00:05:35 gone through ebbs and flows myself of, This field, I always loved it, but what happened

00:05:42 the application of it in, we were talking earlier about in corporate settings, in any

00:05:49 workplace settings, there's, there's a lot of pressure on timelines and you continue

00:05:54 to get squeezed and you get squeezed. And the very nature of anthropology is immerse

00:05:59 yourself. And the cultures, take time to observe people in different States every day won't

00:06:06 look the same. If you sit them down for a three hour interview one day, and then you

00:06:11 do the same interview. One week later, they might be saying completely different things.

00:06:16 How do you bridge the gap? And the gap is only bridged truly by observing what they

00:06:21 do in their natural setting, instead of asking them what they say. So we want to, we want

00:06:26 to kind of. Bridge that do and say gap. So, so I realized that going through this ebb

00:06:34 and flow, what I had not done until very recently was an auto ethnography. And I, I really advocate

00:06:43 for this. This method. And I feel that all researchers really, all people should kind

00:06:50 of do it auto ethnography to understand why you're doing what you're doing to understand

00:06:55 essentially what forces have, have been combined to make, who make you, who you are and, show

00:07:03 you what you believe in. So a lot of times, we ve well, I shouldn't say a lot, but there

00:07:11 have been critiques of auto ethnography saying it's very. Self-absorbed, it may be even narcissistic.

00:07:18 There's some people that are like, this is not academic. This is not rigorous, you know,

00:07:23 what, what what's going on here, but I feel that if you, if you understand your layers,

00:07:30 if you understand what you remember, if you understand what you connect to, then you can

00:07:34 kind of understand your biases when you're doing research. And not only doing the research

00:07:40 as in conducting, sitting, observing, but also synthesizing. And in synthesizing with

00:07:46 the knowledge of what, what your beliefs are, what your values are, you can learn to edit,

00:07:52 according to your biases against your biases and kind of level set and calibrate. So, so

00:07:59 for example, you know, I, I will use my own identity pretty obvious female of Indian origin

00:08:08 grew up in the United States. So. So I realized that, I was always over-indexing on minorities

00:08:15 and I still continue to do that. I was always over-indexing on remembering the stories of,

00:08:22 people of global majority people of color over the, the majority Caucasian populations.

00:08:28 And I had to recalibrate that and some of my research, because yes, I would take copious

00:08:33 notes. Yes. I would, note down everything everyone said. But then when it came to synthesis

00:08:38 and kind of putting together things, both from your notes, but also from your memory

00:08:42 also from the epiphany's that struck, you have to understand that all of those come

00:08:46 from, inherent bias, we can't remove bias, but we can kind of adjust for it and we can

00:08:53 be very systematic of, shaping it, shaping it to, to be more meaningful, both for the

00:09:01 client and for yourself. So, so in that way, I think, I think we. Oh, hold on one second.

00:09:15 I think, auto ethnography is a course that I wanted to teach. So I'm going to start teaching

00:09:23 that course in January. And what we're going to do is use auto ethnography to explore,

00:09:31 students' current sentiments around the black lives matter movement around the pandemic

00:09:36 and other global phenomenon that's happening right now. So. I, I do, have to give credit

00:09:43 to Ruth Bay har who has been, she wrote a lot of amazing books. One of my favorite is

00:09:50 the vulnerable observer. And she talks about incorporating yourself, your emotions and

00:09:55 your background in your research. So, I, I mentioned all of this because we often talk

00:10:02 about research, being, learning about, being in the shoes of the other. And research being

00:10:09 about understanding other people's lives. And I think that is completely the aim of

00:10:15 research, but you can't understand what is other, if you don't understand what is yourself

00:10:20 and you don't. And if you don't understand the separation of when you re self is kind

00:10:25 of, bleeding into the interpretation of the other. And then in classical anthropology,

00:10:32 I mean, there was, it started from kind of this Western gaze of the exotic, other exotic

00:10:38 Eastern cultures, you know, so it's definitely evolved from there. And it's definitely evolved

00:10:43 from the kind of Western superiority that it used to hold. But we still have a ways

00:10:50 to go and, and we don't want to have that kind of power dynamic of like, well, this

00:10:55 is where we stand and we're right. You know, nor should it be, you know what it's becoming

00:11:01 now where the customer is always right or the client is always right or that three,

00:11:06 three hour interviews also, the gospel, you know, because we, we have to. We have to kind

00:11:13 of use our own, faculties and our own backgrounds to interpret some of these, some of these

00:11:20 situations. So I want to talk more about like, how I got into this, how I got into this space.

00:11:35 And, we met because I gave a talk on how my background in Indian classical dance led me

00:11:42 to anthropology. But then on, upon further introspection upon further auto ethnography,

00:11:48 I realized that wasn't the central why of why I got into this. So I'm going to turn

00:11:54 it to you Kadambari and ask you what you think of this image, this artifact that I'm going

00:12:01 to show you from my life and this to me explains a lot about, why I got into anthropology.

00:12:10 Okay. I can see you there. And I can see like lot of people with different cultural backgrounds

00:12:17 or, you know, different cultures. And with the image that I can see, like, you know,

00:12:22 you're standing in between, and there's also this thing of, you know, girls just looking

00:12:27 at the different, people there who are your friends maybe, or, you know, people you're

00:12:32 with them right now. but what I see is not like same sort of people there, there's a

00:12:37 lot of mature, like, you know, different sort of people who are there, different cultures,

00:12:41 maybe you wanted to understand them better and from this picture, if I have to infer

00:12:46 like take a long leap, I would say that if you were interested in, your friends there

00:12:52 and wanted to understand them better. So that was the starting point for you to start on

00:12:57 the anthropology. Awesome. Yes. That was definitely a huge part

00:13:04 of it wanting to understand them more. But I think even more than that, this was, this

00:13:09 was home to me. Home was multicultural. Home was multi-lingual home was, every other friend

00:13:16 I had was a child of immigrants. So I was always clamoring to get back to that sense

00:13:21 of home. And, and to me, I think always this is what home will look like. And it is also,

00:13:30 important to note that this was some kind of, you know, where your cultural dress performance

00:13:36 or program that they put on for us when we were, I don't know, like, I guess it looks

00:13:40 like four or five years old and that's also a part of it, you know hold on to where you

00:13:47 came from, hold onto your stories, as you can kind of hold hands with everyone else,

00:13:52 you know, join forces. So it's kind of, it's a very like utopian, you know, we're, we're

00:13:57 all a happy family, but I, I really did grow up in that. I mean, you, you learned little

00:14:02 bits and pieces of other people's language and it was. It was cool. It wasn't like strange.

00:14:07 It was awesome that you could, you know, I, I think I knew a little bit of Korean and

00:14:12 Greek growing up and definitely Spanish and I speak, the only thing I retained now is

00:14:18 Spanish. I don't know any of those other languages, but I mean, it's, it's awesome to grow up

00:14:23 in this kind of environment where. You know, there isn't one majority, there isn't one

00:14:28 minority it's kind of, and it s kind of peppered throughout. So I realized that, I mean, this

00:14:35 is why I study anthropology because I'm always trying to bridge these differences and say,

00:14:42 you know, we could be different, but we can still understand each other. We can still

00:14:47 Co-exist and it really does follow a lineage of anthropologists. Who've been activists,

00:14:55 they've been, promoters of equality and justice. I mean the father of American anthropology,

00:15:02 Frank boas is the one that kind of. Spread the cultural relativism concept of like, you

00:15:13 know, and within our cultural context, we, we learned certain things. We have certain

00:15:17 values, none is better than the other. It's all relative. And it's all, you know, it's,

00:15:23 it's different, but equal kind of, sort of, you know, that's not, that's not the best

00:15:27 way to phrase it, but, Yeah. So, so this is essentially why I continue to dive into anthropology

00:15:37 because you know, you, you get to a point where differences become similarities and

00:15:43 similarities become differences, and it keeps weaving in and out of, these, these kinds

00:15:48 of norms and an abnormal, but what you call abnormal, what you call normal is, is always

00:15:55 changing from this. So, yeah, so I, I say that, you can, you can get really entrenched

00:16:07 in learning about other people by learning about your story. Another thing I would say

00:16:12 is, In, in my experience of how you tell these stories and, and some of that, we talked about

00:16:21 some of those timelines being condensed and some of the stories of longitudinal study

00:16:26 of deep immersion and ethnography, or either you can't, you don't have time to actually

00:16:31 explore them, or you don't have time to tell them. I realized for, for me personally, writing

00:16:36 those stories out, maybe even taking inspiration from those stories and writing fictional stories

00:16:43 has been a great outlet. So I would say researchers, if you feel like I did all this work, I collected

00:16:48 all these great stories. You know, you can this is how, how writers and filmmakers work.

00:16:54 They, they take from real life. So it is, you know, it is art imitating life and you've.

00:17:00 Seeing all these life experiences. And if you need, if you need an outlet, I would say,

00:17:06 definitely go into some of these performing arts spaces and some of these creative spaces

00:17:11 to, to really let that story breathe. So, I think, I think I'll end there.

00:17:18 I mean, I have a few other things, but I think that's where. I'll wrap up because I want

00:17:26 to hear from you now. It was amazing to hear, you know, thoughts,

00:17:30 how you got into ethnography and anthropology. Sorry, not, and you know, how you continue.

00:17:37 So you did talk about that, you know, understanding your friends was the starting point maybe,

00:17:44 or what does, that was my at least leap, of like, you know, how did that get interested?

00:17:48 But I want to understand, like at what time, what time in you re, like, you know, growing

00:17:53 up, you understood that you want to be an anthropologist and, how did you go about becoming

00:17:59 one? I think there's a few seeds that were planted

00:18:04 and, or a few breadcrumbs that were leading me to, to practicing anthropology. I think

00:18:13 the first was, we had an exercise when we were in sixth grade where each, each group

00:18:20 of students had a different class culture like Egypt and Greek. And then we painted

00:18:26 pots according to the art and life of, those cultures broke the pots, buried them in sand.

00:18:32 And then a different group. So let's say I was in the group Egypt. I would go to, to

00:18:38 some other group. They wouldn't tell us which one uncover the pieces of the broken pot and

00:18:44 put it together. And that's where I first learned about archeology. It's not to say

00:18:48 this, that our social studies. We're centering on, anthropological fields, but, that one

00:18:57 or two weeks, or maybe it was even a few days, I can't remember right now, left a big impact

00:19:03 on me. Next was, I believe there was another social studies class around 13 or 14. And,

00:19:09 I don't quite remember what the class was, but I do remember them saying there are people

00:19:14 who major in anthropology and that, that planted the seed for, Oh, I could actually study this

00:19:19 and then. After, not quite after graduating during the last years of university, one of

00:19:28 my friends mentioned an article on corporate anthropology because I felt my professor,

00:19:37 my advisor gave me an assignment that would have been the precursor to a PhD in film and

00:19:43 anthropology. And I realized I didn't have the patience for it. And I think he kind of

00:19:47 wanted to, he's like, yeah, he's like, and it s yours. If you want it, you could do the

00:19:51 PhD. But at that, at that time, at that age, for whatever reason, I just, I was like, This

00:19:56 one paper was enough and I don't think I have the stamina, the endurance, God bless everyone

00:20:02 who does, but I was like, I can't, I can't do this right now. So, you know, this like

00:20:09 his exercise combined with this friend showing me the article on corporate anthropology,

00:20:14 which was a big light bulb moment. I didn't know this existed definitely didn't hear about

00:20:19 it in our school. I had heard about applied anthropology, but it was mostly applied to,

00:20:26 Social causes. And, for example, that same advisor, he applied his knowledge of drugs

00:20:34 and culture to rehabilitation centers for addicts, you know, so, so that's kind of like

00:20:39 I saw it in very limited lenses and that corporate anthropology opened up wider doors. I did

00:20:44 start out doing work in nonprofits and loosely applying my anthropology background, but it

00:20:50 was largely administrative. So, so then that whole corporate anthropology came kind of

00:20:57 screaming back like three or four years after my, my dabbling in the nonprofit world. And

00:21:03 I said, why, why not go into for-profit? I shouldn't, I shouldn't be so black and white,

00:21:08 you know, let's try both, both sides. And, and I actually was in sales and marketing

00:21:14 before I said, let me create my own position as a, it was a tech company. A cloud computing

00:21:21 company. So I said, if you want to sell cloud computing, products. And if you want to design

00:21:27 them in a way that makes sense, you really need to study these highly skeptical, highly

00:21:32 intelligent developers up-close and see what's working for them. See, what's already being

00:21:37 used and, and not build something equal or let alone sub-par, you know, you have to build

00:21:44 something that's much better and you have to talk about it in a way that doesn't raise

00:21:50 suspicion. So, I created this developer anthropologists role and I was in Silicon Valley. Like every

00:21:57 week I basically lived there and went to conferences. So, so that's kind of how, it's, how it started.

00:22:08 You talked about applying anthropology to design, right? Like, so how has that journey

00:22:13 been? And, can you elaborate like how it can be used actually in the corporate settings?

00:22:20 So there's. There's lots of different ways, but basically, I mean, when, when I work with

00:22:26 designers, they're, they're trying to solve problems, elegantly beautifully, intelligently

00:22:31 and kind of seamlessly, you know so there's this, I believe it's a Parsi phrase, be like

00:22:37 sugar and milk. So I feel like the sugar is, that user research. And then, you know, when

00:22:45 your sugar and milk, you don't see the sweetness, you don't see the research, you don't see

00:22:49 the intelligence behind, but it's, it tastes and feels better. So I feel that our research

00:22:55 has to be, I mean, it's the designers part too, to kind of weave it in seamlessly, but

00:23:02 as a researcher that hopefully brings the designer along the ethnographic journey, it,

00:23:09 it truly is that like immersing yourself, collecting these stories, making sure, the,

00:23:15 the depth of a nuance of the human experience is always present in every part of the decision-making

00:23:22 process. It's, it's kind of astonishing how quickly that. Mindset can drop if you or somebody

00:23:31 in the room is not advocating for the customer because very easily it could become well,

00:23:37 it's just too difficult to build that. It's just too, ah, do we really need to worry about

00:23:42 that, you know, level of comfort or do we really need to worry you it's just incredible

00:23:47 how quickly that perspective can drop because of it, you know, very understandable practical

00:23:53 business need, or it's just too difficult on the engineering side but not impossible,

00:23:59 you know? So, so we really have to be, remembering and retelling these stories that we found

00:24:06 out in the field to keep everyone in that kind of like present with the customer because

00:24:13 the customer's not in the room, they don't get to be in the room. So you have to. Keep

00:24:16 kind of invoking them in, in, and there, their stories and their spirit and into the design

00:24:26 process. Do you want to talk about some of the methods

00:24:28 that you applied? Like you did talk about, you know, some of the things like immersing,

00:24:32 and longitude middle, you know, after UX and things like that, do you want to elaborate

00:24:37 on that for people like what it means and what it is.

00:24:41 So there's on the observation side, there's covert observation and participant observation.

00:24:48 So covert is essentially spine, you know, so I'll, I'll bring in one of my favorite

00:24:55 projects I got to work on, which was. My first project. When I became an, when I went independent

00:25:01 was a design group in Denmark, wanted to build, they wanted to revolutionize products for

00:25:09 the visually impaired they're like, why are we still using this stick, the cane we need

00:25:14 to, we need to blow this out of the water. We can incorporate motion sensing. So and

00:25:20 we want to launch in New York City, which is a very different place from Copenhagen.

00:25:24 It's like, we, we know like everything is different, you know how do we, how do we go

00:25:32 about doing this for that context? And what I had done was. First of all learned a lot

00:25:39 of valuable lessons and gatekeepers, because there was a lot of folks when I called and

00:25:44 said, I'm a researcher and I should have known this, but I, you know, you learn lessons many

00:25:48 times. I should have known that you can't just go in and say, I'm a researcher. I want

00:25:51 to stare at your community and take notes and be weird. You know, they're like, we're

00:25:56 not getting we get about 10 calls like this every day. We are not interested. And I realized,

00:26:04 you know, you have to, there is an exchange that we always talk about in a traditional

00:26:08 anthropology. Like you, you do have to give back to the society, that's giving so much

00:26:12 knowledge to you. So I became a volunteer at one of the shelters and in that way I was

00:26:17 able to. and then of course I kept all the names anonymous, but I was able to respectfully

00:26:23 be there, but still be a fly on the wall, listen, and both engage, but also be kind

00:26:29 of covert in, in like the conversations I listened to. And there's so much value in

00:26:35 that. Especially a group that is completely different from your own. I didn't realize

00:26:39 for example, that the actual material of the stick of the cane mattered. So there's plastic,

00:26:49 there's rubber, plastic allows people to tap and it kind of creates like an echo. So people

00:26:55 you are kind of warned or, or even they can see, Oh, it's this material or that material

00:27:01 based on the echo, the rubber is less slippery, but it kind of mutes out the sound, especially

00:27:07 when it's snowing. And so there's all these things that I was like, I listened to a conversation.

00:27:11 All of this was from me, just sitting there, like, like listening to a conversation between

00:27:16 two of the members of the community. And I would've never gotten this information. I

00:27:21 wouldn't have known to ask this information. In the years, you know, and I did listen to

00:27:26 podcasts. I did try to do my, secondary research upfront. So I came in informed, but in no

00:27:32 way was I was I that well-informed, that I got these kinds of intimate conversations

00:27:37 about materials, about the really day to day. Difficulties and nuances of navigating the

00:27:44 city as a visually impaired person. So I, I always advocate for starting with a combination

00:27:50 of secondary research and that includes podcasts. That includes, academic articles, even, you

00:27:57 know, but not, not even academic articles, but just find all kinds of resources, stories,

00:28:03 from the group that you were intending to study. But also do some of the covert observation.

00:28:09 And then the participant observation was like I said, I was a volunteer, so I would engage

00:28:13 with them. I would talk to them, but I was essentially part of the community. It's not

00:28:17 always possible. I understand that. But if there is a seamless, respectful, ethical way

00:28:23 to do that, always start with that because I cite that one example of the material, because

00:28:29 you don't know what you don't know, you don't know what questions to ask and that will give

00:28:34 you the most intelligent kind of briefing to then create your, interview questions.

00:28:41 The interview should be like the second part of the whole research journey.

00:28:46 Yeah. Yeah, that's really awesome to hear like, you know, how you went about it. I want

00:28:52 to focus on one of the things that you talked about that was ethics and it's, its really

00:28:56 important. You know, being that, you know, you're taking so much from, the people understanding

00:29:01 them. So what do you think are good practices for a researcher? Who's, you know, like a

00:29:06 new budding designer, like, let's say researcher, who's coming to the field, knows like, you

00:29:10 know how to conduct the research, but what the part of ethics, what do you think that

00:29:14 should be? You know, taken care of when you're doing interviews or any of those.

00:29:21 There's, you know, there's like kind of the standard legal side of ethics, there's the

00:29:27 cultural sensitivity side of ethics. And then there's probably so many others that I'm not

00:29:31 going to cover. So by no means is this exhaustive, but let's start with the cultural sensitivity.

00:29:36 That's where doing your homework being prepared to seek out participants seek out your, those

00:29:45 that will help you in your research in a respectful way, in a non-offensive way, kind of list

00:29:51 out cultural norms and you know, well, for example, even like home interviews, people

00:29:56 too, Some people still don't know, like you have to take off your shoes in many people's

00:30:01 homes and they just come barging in with their cameras and their shoes. And it's just, it's

00:30:05 like that, like, you know, one-on-one kind of thing, you know? So there's, you know,

00:30:11 that's a very small example, but there's also things you say. I came in calling around saying,

00:30:16 Hey, can I just sit there observe, you know, you're visually impaired, not realizing how,

00:30:21 how, Greedy. That was in a way how disrespectful it was. This is where people come to feel

00:30:29 safe, to feel. Cared for, to really let loose and hang out with people that are like them.

00:30:35 And you don't want, I mean, if you go into like any kind of safe space, how would you

00:30:40 feel if someone's staring? So I should have, you know, this was early on, but I should

00:30:44 have known that. So kind of these, cultural sensitivity and, and even just on a human

00:30:49 level. Code of ethics. And then on the legal side, you know, I will not present your name.

00:30:55 I will not present your, whatever. The, the participant is comfortable with, you have

00:30:59 to honor that. So you'll have consent forms. If, you know, we've run into this a few times

00:31:05 where people are like, I, I didn't realize you were going to videotape us, even if it

00:31:09 was cleared, you know, these things happen, even if it was cleared by whatever recruiting

00:31:14 company or even if we spoke directly to them. They just changed their mind, you know, and

00:31:19 you have to honor that. And if they don't want to sign that consent form, maybe have

00:31:23 another one ready, say, can we record audio at least and not use your name and, you know,

00:31:28 so, so keep adjusting those things, but make sure everything is clear to the participant

00:31:33 and not only clear, but obviously comfortable to them in that moment and then, obviously

00:31:37 on your side, have everything ready to, to be signed, to be verified.

00:31:44 So I'm going to ask you another question, which is like, we generally do in design when

00:31:50 we're, you know, constructing a persona and I want to construct a persona of a person

00:31:55 who's a researcher. So I want to understand the day in the life of a researcher. So how

00:31:59 would it, how does yours, like, if you are a researcher who is doing on a, on a project,

00:32:04 how does your day in life looks like A day in the life? I think if you're going

00:32:10 to talk about personas, which, you know, kind of put you into this like static state, which

00:32:14 is a little unfair for any kind of person. I would say the biggest commonality is you

00:32:21 have to be a good improviser. I would, I would stand by that for anybody. You know, you're,

00:32:26 and you re an improviser. You may have to have a poker face because you don't know.

00:32:31 it's, it's an awkward thing to say, your improve improvisation implies like great performance,

00:32:39 but your performance is being, you know, very like, Oh, you just screamed at me. Okay. Okay.

00:32:45 You know, like, you know, there's, there's that, I believe. There's a sense of listening.

00:32:52 I mean, you know, heard this a lot, but the best researchers kind of put themselves, at

00:33:01 least in some of these interviews kind of put themselves and their personality is secondary

00:33:05 or background to what's going on in front of them. So a little bit, a little bit like,

00:33:11 and it's not to say that's who they are all the time, but in these research settings.

00:33:15 And then you asked for specifically a day in the life. I mean, let's talk about a day

00:33:19 in the life, in, in the field. I think it's, it's, coming up with, and let's say truly

00:33:28 in the field, you don't have a camera, you just have a notebook and let's say it's something

00:33:32 like with the visual impaired, I couldn't go in with a camera you have to set out with

00:33:38 what are some questions you have to answer from the previous day or your previous research?

00:33:45 Have those questions in the background, but always be listening for something unexpected,

00:33:52 always be fresh eyes, always be, kind of arguing with your assumptions and your biases and,

00:34:01 be kind, Is opportunistic the right, you know, like, like be ready to jump at an opportunity

00:34:08 to speak with somebody or to be involved in an activity or, to kind of go with the flow

00:34:13 of what this natural setting is presenting to you because you, you never know if, that

00:34:19 might be a hidden gem. That might be the one thing that unexpectedly led to the product

00:34:25 innovation to the beautiful design, you know, you never know. So. Undercurrent is game of

00:34:33 improve. Start out with some objectives. Start out with like a loose structure, but always

00:34:38 leave room for surprises. You also draw a lot of pamphlets between,

00:34:43 you know, the performance art, and you know, you've also talked about like how it can be

00:34:47 a good outlet for researchers to publish those stories or, you know, create something from

00:34:53 that side. And you'd also performance artists. So how do you see these two things coming

00:34:59 together for you? For me, I, I got into writing. Scripts, just

00:35:07 like putting together these stories and these characters that I ve that have been floating

00:35:10 around in my head very recently. It was never really on my radar. So, so it was just, it

00:35:18 was just very surprising that this came to be so, I believe that if you in fiction, and

00:35:29 fictionalized versions of these ethnographic experiences. You can have some license for

00:35:35 interpretation, which is not like, well, where did you get that from? Where's the proof,

00:35:38 where's the proof you're like, no, I just, I can just infer it. I can just feel it. You

00:35:43 know, you can give yourself permission to do that because yes, we, again, we are people

00:35:47 and if you. Are talking to someone and you're reading between the lines and you're kind

00:35:52 of like your colleague is reading between the lines of the executive is like, well,

00:35:56 they didn't say it word for word. They didn't say I liked the color green and I like buttons

00:36:00 that are round versus square. You did not prove this to me. I don't see the evidence

00:36:06 you need to back it up. You re kind of like, Oh my gosh. You know, so, so it's, it's a

00:36:11 chance to, you know, fill in those, those in between the lines kind of stories. And

00:36:19 I gave like a very mundane example, but there's all kinds of other things. Well, you don't

00:36:23 like round buttons because you're very into this and this and this, you know? So you can

00:36:27 just go with your imagination. You can go with, the little, the little like peaks that

00:36:35 people give the little glimpses people give into their lives. And you could keep expanding

00:36:40 on that because. Inevitably, it'll be percolate percolating in your head of like, who are

00:36:45 they? You know, I want to go deeper. I want to go deeper. Well, in your imagination, in

00:36:49 your stories, you can go deeper. So I find that for me personally, that was an unexpected,

00:36:58 gift to kind of let out some of these things, these characters that have been like. I didn't

00:37:04 even know under no we're running around in my head.

00:37:08 So, it's, it's like, you know, these fields that we are in are much driven by passion

00:37:14 than anything else. Right. I want to understand what keeps you moving in the direction, what

00:37:20 made you feel, and what is the rewarding experience for you being in anthropology and research?

00:37:26 Yeah, I think what's keeping me moving these days more than anything is the, the new found

00:37:33 teaching, personally, because, I get to experience and I, when I teach it, it's a very much like

00:37:41 self-designed kind of, approach to it. So I get to see anthropology applied to areas

00:37:49 that I didn't even think to apply to, or maybe I thought about it, but I didn't realize how

00:37:53 exciting it could be for somebody. So I think that that keeps it fresh for me. I think,

00:37:59 outside of that, yes, the performance aspect is, something that really helps. I mean, you

00:38:04 know, did I. This am I representing this person of this cultural group, very accurately will

00:38:13 Wilson anthropologist colleague come after me and be like, what a caricature you built?

00:38:18 What are you doing? You know, like, so I think some of this is like, you know, we speak of

00:38:23 ethics and if you're doing comedy, you're kind like. Ethical comedy, like, I don't know,

00:38:29 like ethical representation of this person from this subgroup. but still make it funny,

00:38:34 you know, like it's, I think that's giving me new life, a new challenge, in, and, and

00:38:41 also allowing me to go a little bit deeper into listening and researching in a way that

00:38:47 for a consumer design or B2B design, I, you know, I'd gone to a certain level. But I couldn't

00:38:56 go further into that story. Whereas this medium of performance art demands you to go really

00:39:03 far into that story, because the reason is like in, in business settings, they they're

00:39:08 like, okay, we don't need any more, you know? So you almost you're like, Oh, if you don't

00:39:11 need more, I'm not going to invest more time. Sometimes you get to that point where you're

00:39:14 like, all right, we got enough, but it's in the end to learn about a person's life. You

00:39:19 can never have enough data and stories. Right. So now talking about business, I want to understand

00:39:26 like gets its way, to talk about research and, you know, in the corporate setting and,

00:39:30 you know, to read and give that amount of time. So how do you emphasize the value of

00:39:34 research to your business stakeholders? Yeah. I feel like there's, there's been, an

00:39:41 interesting shift for, for me and perhaps I've learned from some others where. Previously,

00:39:47 it would be like let's advocate for it. Let's push let's push let's push it. Now it's been

00:39:53 a little bit of a, let them do the research. Let them not only sit in on an interview,

00:39:59 but you know, ask some of the questions upfront, some of, kind of the rapport building questions.

00:40:07 And, even more important than that I believe is having non researchers collaborate in the

00:40:15 synthesis. Because I feel like, and, and some institutions organizations already do this,

00:40:22 of course, but I feel like that's when.

00:40:26 People I've seen shift from skeptical of research. Why does this take so much time to like, Oh

00:40:31 my gosh, had we not had this much time to synthesize the information? We wouldn't have

00:40:36 gotten this? You, we wouldn't have connected the dots between these, these two behaviors

00:40:41 and understood that it was a negotiation of finances and priorities, for example, you

00:40:46 know, so there's, there's something to sitting back and allowing. People to essentially immerse

00:40:55 themselves in a research world. So you're kind of, it's kind of like eating our own

00:41:00 dog food. You're like, hey, let's let the non-researcher do participant observation,

00:41:06 do an ethnography, be an ethnographer in a researcher's world. And only then I believe,

00:41:12 will they truly buy into all of this? It's not always possible. I know with stakeholders,

00:41:17 but if you get. You know, bit by bit. If you get more and more people to immerse themselves

00:41:23 in the world of research, I think the work will be done for you. You don't have to push.

00:41:29 I'm going to ask you another tough question in that regard. So there's always like, there's

00:41:34 never, nobody's going to tell us that you know, that this is the, you know, endless

00:41:39 time you have to continue your project and things like that. Most of the time, like very

00:41:44 you know, put into a very tight deadline and very short, sort of, you know, workshops and

00:41:50 things are conducted, to create, you know, maybe research or design or for that matter.

00:41:55 So how do you negotiate with such things or, or do you negotiate or how do you think that

00:42:01 your people should find, what are your suggestions maybe?

00:42:06 I think, it's always important to negotiate, never back down from that, but, but also know

00:42:13 when, when, when you're, when you're spending more time negotiating then research thing.

00:42:19 If, if, if you know what I mean, like if it's holding up the process or if it's taking away,

00:42:24 you know, other things you could be doing. So, so first of all, balanced that out and

00:42:29 what you're negotiating for. Because if you start thinking creatively about repurposing

00:42:35 research and, and it doesn't work in every circumstance, but there are situations where

00:42:40 there's been some foundational research done about, you know, for example, how, how, folks

00:42:49 in a certain area think about their personal finances and the fears and myths that they

00:42:53 have. So if you've kind of. Taken a good, deep longitudinal approach to that world.

00:43:01 Maybe you can use some of that research to us. Supplement the kind of drain of time that

00:43:09 you have on this current project. So, so yes. Look, it's, it's, it's, I'm saying contradictory

00:43:15 things, but you have to look at this project with fresh eyes and say, what does this project

00:43:19 need? But, Oh, Hey. People in the sentiments and some of the cultural aspects are the same

00:43:25 as this other project, or, you know, there's, there's all these fantastic anthropologists

00:43:30 and other academics that have done years in lifetime of work on some of these areas, please,

00:43:37 you know, build from them, borrow from them. Use, use some of this research, to do, to

00:43:44 kind of, you know, like. To start out a little bit on a higher plane with your own research.

00:43:51 So I think, you know, while you negotiate and that's, that's like a hard battle to win,

00:43:57 you can find other ways to deepen your research and, and, kind of make up for lost time or

00:44:04 make up for time. That s been cut from you. Now I'm going to ask you some of the things

00:44:10 that keeps inspiring you. I understand, like, you know, in current times of pandemic, there's

00:44:14 lot of things happening, but, you did talk about, you know, what keeps you motivated,

00:44:19 but in general, like even before pandemic and even now, what are the things in life

00:44:23 that inspires you? Things in life that inspire me. Well, it's

00:44:30 become a lot more grounded. Like that answer would have been very different pre pandemic.

00:44:34 I would have been like it's the parties. No, just kidding. But you know, I, I feel like

00:44:42 I've come to a point where I'm living in, in. These quiet times. It's, it's a very,

00:44:51 you know, kind of cliche answer, but like family and cooking food and my dog and, you

00:44:59 know, these, these kinds of things inspire me. And, I, in nature, I mean, I've, you know,

00:45:07 like what, what can you do? You don't, you don't want to gather with too many people,

00:45:11 but you still want to be out. So to say, and I feel like being in nature, you. You learn

00:45:17 a lot, or you don't learn a lot and its fine. It's fine to not keep grinding and learning

00:45:22 and producing and processing all the time. Some rest is, is needed. But, but pre pandemic

00:45:30 times, I, I joked and said parties, but I, I think I, I went, I was lucky enough to gather

00:45:36 with so many cool people. Like I met you at the conference. I would, make it a ritual

00:45:43 to go to this Margaret Mead film festival. It was the ethnographic film festival in New

00:45:49 York. And, and then, and then film festivals themselves. There's a lot of South Asian film

00:45:53 festivals that have started budding up in, in the US even and reading the people behind

00:45:59 the films, the storytellers, the, they are in their own way. Ethnographers, you know,

00:46:05 they're putting, I studied life on camera. So, these people, these, gatherings were,

00:46:14 and probably still will inspire me once, once we resume.

00:46:20 Yeah. Some recommendations that you will give for younger researchers and designers.

00:46:26 I would say, I would say read some of the classic anthropologists works. So Margaret

00:46:36 Mead, Ruth Benedict, and then more recently, Ruth Bihar, I talked about her book, vulnerable

00:46:43 observer and kind of find, find, even if you're not. Professing to be an anthropologist. I

00:46:49 think you could find a lot of inspiration from how they took anthropology, made it their

00:46:54 own, but then also gave a lot of respect to the culture, cultural groups they were studying.

00:47:02 And, so that's, you know, that's going deep into your practice. I think it's equally important

00:47:06 to get out of your practice. So do something completely different. Shake up your mind.

00:47:12 I talked a lot about how, Research is a game of improv. And I would say take improv classes.

00:47:20 I would highly recommend that because it's just fun. I think any industry, I mean, just,

00:47:25 you have to get out of your head. It is scary, but so is you show up to a client's house.

00:47:31 They're not expecting you, your camera's not working. They hate you, whatever it is, you

00:47:37 know, you have to be ready for some of these challenges and still make the most of it and

00:47:42 still see the benefit in it. Just like an improv, anything that's given to you, you

00:47:46 have to make a scene out of it. So I think take improv classes. I obviously I'm biased,

00:47:53 but any kind of artistic outlet, you know, have that, have that just for the sake of

00:47:57 having it, whatever it might be, crocheting painting, dancing. You know, so I think these,

00:48:05 these are some things I could offer. And in general, like people who are getting

00:48:10 into design or any sort of career, what sort of thing they should look out for are some

00:48:14 of your suggestions in terms of, you know, going onto a career, which is more creative

00:48:18 or, you know, research and things like that. What, what, what would be your advice to them?

00:48:25 So, I would say folks getting into career. I, in the beginning, I talked maybe a little

00:48:36 too much about auto ethnography, but it's only because I think it's more important than

00:48:41 ever, or maybe it's always been incredibly important to know why you're getting into

00:48:45 something and keep, keep revisiting that. Why keep re-examining why, why you're doing

00:48:50 what you're doing, why you're studying, what you're studying, why you're advocating for

00:48:56 certain approaches and. A lot of times we see even in the supposed creative fields,

00:49:02 this kind of like there's mother duck, and then baby duck is going to follow and make

00:49:07 sure, you know, there's, there's some imprinting of like, I idolize this designer, I idolize

00:49:11 this anthropologist and you know, that's wonderful. They'd probably deserve a lot of that, but

00:49:18 also make sure, you know, beyond idolizing this person and beyond idolizing this career

00:49:23 path, truly for yourself authentically, why you're doing and in embarking on this path.

00:49:30 Well, that was a great, you know, advice, piece of advice to be authentic and to look

00:49:35 into yourself right before idolizing others. Yeah, that was great. I would now want to

00:49:42 thank you for coming and sharing your thoughts with us today. And, for the great work that

00:49:47 you're doing and, you know, again, inspiring so many people, we, we want to just, confer

00:49:52 upon you a small love, and, you know, a token of appreciation from our side and I'll just

00:49:59 share that with you. So we just want to show that today you are our inspiring young designer.

00:50:08 Thanks for coming and sharing your thoughts with us. We really loved, you know, listening

00:50:13 to your story is, being authentic and you know, how, how it means to be an anthropologist

00:50:19 and researcher and how you do your apply that thank you so much for sharing that today.

00:50:22 Thank you. This was such an honor. And, I love the series you're putting together. I

00:50:27 admire the work you're doing and thank you so much for having me.


Vyjayanthi gives an insightful talk on applied anthropology in the field of design research and talks about how anthropology plays the central role in making key design decisions at a higher level.