During my M.Des days there was much discussion about semiotics as well as research concepts such as contextual inquiry, participant observation, the apprentice model, semi-structured interviews, FGDs.
What is semiotics?
The study of signs and symbols, especially the relationship between written or spoken signs and their referents in the physical world or the world of ideas. A core strategic method by which graphic marks, texts and images can be deconstructed and interpreted to determine their underlying meanings.
(From the book ‘Visual Research’ by Ian Noble and Russell Bestley. This book has been published by AVA Publishing SA.)
What is a sign? Pending
Saussure: A linguist, Saussure’s theory focused on language and study of words as ‘signs’ Peirce: The meaning of any sign is affected by who is reading the sign. Peirce recognised a creative process of exchange between the sign and the reader.
Barthes: Like Saussure and Peirce before him Barthes identified structural relationships in the components of a sign. His ideas centre on two different levels of signification; denotation and connotation.
(Above summarized from the book Visible Signs by David Crowe)
What are codes?
Communication is the transfer of information. Communication by code can only work if there are preset patterns. These patterns which may be very complex are worked out beforehand and are available under some code heading. Instead of transferring all the required information you just transfer the code heading. That code heading acts as a trigger word which identifies and calls up the pattern you want. This trigger word can be an actual code heading such as the name of a film or it can be some part of the information which acts to call up the rest. Language itself is the most obvious code system with the words themselves as triggers. There are great advantages in any code system. It is easy to transfer a lot of information very quickly and without much effort.
(From Edward De Bono’s, Lateral Thinking)
What is contextual inquiry?
Contextual inquiry is a semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use, where users are first asked a set of standard questions and then observed and questioned while they work in their own environments.
The four principles of contextual inquiry are:
1. Focus - Plan for the inquiry, based on a clear understanding of your purpose
2. Context - Go to the customer's workplace and watch them do their own work
3. Partnership - Talk to customers about their work and engage them in uncovering unarticulated aspects of work
4. Interpretation - Develop a shared understanding with the customer about the aspects of work that matter
What is participant observation?
Participant observation is an ethnographic method in which a researcher participates in, observes, and records the everyday activities and cultural aspects of a particular social group. It typically includes research over an extended period of time (rather than a single session) and takes place where people live or work (rather than in a lab). Participant observation involves active engagement in activities in contrast to observation where researchers simply observe without interacting with people.
What is the apprentice model?
This is a method where you become the ‘apprentice’ and the person you are studying becomes the master of the activity that is to be studied. It is advisable to go where the activity or work will happen and gather the data as and when the activity is taking place by asking questions. It is essential to be curious and humble.
What are semi-structured interviews?
A semi-structured interview does have a pre-defined agenda but not necessarily rigid questions. This gives the interviewer ample scope to improvise depending upon how the interviewees’ responses are flowing.
What are focused group discussions?
A focused group discussion is a research technique where a moderator leads a group of participants through a set of questions on a particular topic. Focus groups can also be used to obtain consensus about specific issues.
Dr. Jatin of Sahjeevan, conducts a semi-structured interview with a Camel keeper as Dr. Rohit and Umesh look on. At a tea stall near the location where the camels are grazing. Camel keepers are on a move constantly looking for food and water for their livestock.
I conduct an informal interview with camel keepers at Khavda region, further down from Banni. I visit them where their camels are grazing; the only appropriate time to catch them for an interview was when they were taking a tea-break. The discussion revolved around camel wool and whether they intend to sell it or keep it for personal use.