I began the ethnography project by spending time with Emily and getting to know her better outside of a formal interview. In radio, we were taught that you should always ask a person what they had for breakfast before starting the interview. The question invariably elicits a response; even people who do not eat breakfast have something to say. It serves the purpose of making people more comfortable. My unrecorded conversations with Emily were analogous to this breakfast question; getting to know Emily outside the space of the assignment allowed me to portray her more accurately.
As we began to speak food became an immediately apparent theme in Emily’s life. Everyone eats, yes, but Emily has a special understanding of food and cooking. She can put together things that are healthy and tasty, and she enjoys doing so. Emily’s love of working with her hands in addition to her penchant for structure and organization carry over in her cooking, and so framing the video around that seemed like a natural decision early on. What appealed to me about this angle was that there was a step removed between what Emily was talking about and what I showed her doing.
At first, I struggled with length and editing the film down to a size that would hold the viewer’s attention. My original draft was meandering, and I was still trying to tie some of the imagery directly and literally to what she was talking about. Emily is vibrant and friendly as well as serious, and while a meandering movie captured her seriousness, it did not capture that vibrance. In addition, for a long time I could not quite figure out what note to end on. While I liked the cooking concept, it seemed as though there was no immediate narrative that jumped out at me– it would be easy to discuss why design is like cooking forever. Up until this last draft, I also assumed that everyone would assume that the cooking theme applied from the start. It was highly useful to hear in critique that this was not the case. It allowed me to create a better outline for the content: Why cooking is like design, followed by Emily’s methodologies, followed by a reiteration of how those two carry over as Emily reiterates why graphic design fits her.
If I were to do this over, there are certain things I would change, and certain formal and process elements I would keep. I believe that the cooking concept was successful, and that certain shots (such as the aerial of her adjusting the stovetop) worked. However, better film quality would have allowed those more successful elements to come through stronger. I used my iPod as a camera because that is what I had easily at my disposal, and a technology that I was familiar with. Early on I made the decision to spend my time collecting interviews and structuring a narrative, as opposed to learning a new technology. The same applies for the program I chose to edit in, iMovie. Unfortunately, that decision meant that the shakiness, grain, and lack of color balance are constant presences throughout. Like I mentioned in class, I do not want to blame my tools for poor quality. However, I also believe that I did not use my tools with enough an intentionality that would allow me to justify the result.
I am really glad that this project allowed me the opportunity to get to know Emily better. In addition to learning more about one of my peer’s processes up close (it’s easy to think that your process is the only one when you hole up in a corner with your earphones in to do work), I also feel really lucky to have been paired with such a wonderfully committed, interesting teammate.
When I first interviewed Max, I tried to begin with a general, open-ended questions about his life and his interests. Some of the questions that were most fruitful to me were the ones that asked about his interests and obsessions in design and culture. Not only did they allow me to understand some of the things he was passionate about, but it also helped to reveal his thought process in a less explicit and contrived way than asking him directly. For example, one of the things I found that Max was really interested in was the development of augmented reality. I was intrigued by this, and we ended up discussing for a while the implications of the technology and its presence in every day life – how it could possibly deteriorate social interaction, how it could possibly be used as an alternative vehicle for public art, etc. This led on to us discussing his hobby of VJ’ing, in which he gathers clips and combines them with effects generators to create visual accompaniments to music. I realized later that this performative aspect of VJ’ing seemed to play a clear role in his thinking as a designer; that is, approaching problems with a playful attitude that is open to surprise and innovation through errors. I was interested to see if there was any kind of development to these interests, or if they came out of the blue, so I asked him about his interests earlier in life. Max told me that he had been really interested in video games and making things with Legos. I think this made a lot of sense and I could see how that connected to his current work now – I could see that he has an interest in creating things in virtual spaces and building new, unexpected things out of old systems. Later on in our recorded interview I tried to get him to clarify some of my earlier questions as well as ask more specific questions that I felt would give a strong narrative to the documentary.
From my research and time spent with Max I came to realize that he had approached these digital realms the same way he does design, with an eagerness to play but with an intelligent thought process that focuses on human and technology interacting. I decided to record some interactions between the two of us using Second Life, which is an open world online game that essentially acts as a cheap 3D modeling program. The appeal of Second Life was that it addressed not only Max’s passion for virtual spaces but also his playful aesthetic and demeanor. The visual appearance of Second Life can only be described as ‘crappy’, and the weird idiosyncracies that came about from the two of us maneuvering our way awkwardly through the world reflected Max’s interest in digital systems as a place for exploration and play. I also tried to maintain most shots as framing Max and his computer screen in order to emphasize this further. I originally included a sequence explaining his upbringing and his parents’ influence on his becoming a designer, but I later scrapped it as it seemed extraneous to the focus of Max’s digital presence.