Tag Archives: nicolas nova

Insights from network data analysis that yield field observations

Fabien Girardin

Editor’s note: This post for the April ‘Ethnomining‘ edition comes from Fabien Girardin @fabiengirardin who describes his work with networked/sensor data at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Based on this inspiring case study, he discusses the overall process, how mixed-methods are relevant in his work, and what kind lessons he learnt doing this.

Fabien Girardin is Partner at the Near Future Laboratory, a research agency. He is active in the domains of user experience, data science and urban informatics.


Visitor congestion at the Louvre Museum

Visitor congestion at the Louvre Museum, picture by Fabien Girardin

At the Near Future Laboratory we like to experiment and to go in different directions from the typical technology consultancy. We thrive on the involvement of multiple practices, and bet on the unordinary when it comes to question formulation, data collection and solution creation. After completing my PhD in Computer Science, I left the bounded disciplines of academia to embrace learning and connecting to the other “fields”, the other ways of knowing and seeing the world. Along with partners Julian Bleecker, Nicolas Nova and a network of tactical scouts, we formed a technology-based practice that combines insight and analysis, design and research, and rapid prototyping to transform ideas into material form.

Over the past 5 years, I have led investigations that aim to extract knowledge from the byproducts of people’s digital activities (i.e. network data, also often called digital shadows or digital footprints). That intangible material can take the form of logs of cellular network activity, aggregated credit card transactions, real-time traffic information, user-generated content or social network updates. Over time my contributions have evolved into helping transform this type of big data into insights, products and services. Whether applied for a client or as part of our self-started initiatives, this practice requires the basic skills of a “data scientist” (data analysis, information architecture, software engineering and creativity) along with a capacity to engage at the intersections with a wide variety of professionals, from physicists and engineers to lawyers, strategists and designers. The transversal incline of investigations on network data requires understanding the different languages that shape technologies, reporting on the context of their use, and describing people’s practices. The model of inquiry blends qualitative field observations with quantitative evidence often extracted from logs.

The investigation of network data involves along several steps multiple practices and skills from engineering, to statistics, design, strategy planning, product management and ethnography

The investigation with network data involves multiple practices and skills from engineering, to statistics, design, strategy planning, product management and ethnography; picture by Fabien Girardin

Past projects have led us to exploit untapped data sources, uncover opportunities to transform data into insights, and materialize new services or products. Our method first contemplates datasets and techniques to approach our objectives. Then we develop tangible solutions that engage the project stakeholders in exploring different scenarios and solutions. It is through the experiences of  people with knowledge of the project domain that we are able to extract possible near-future changes and opportunities.

Read More… Insights from network data analysis that yield field observations

We’re growing! Nicolas Nova Joins Ethnography Matters as a Contributor

Editor’s Note: When we launched  Ethnography Matters one year ago in October 2011, we wanted to create a place for ethnographers who were fluid in their practice, ideas, and theories. And so far, the interactions in the comments, on twitter and facebook, and along with our amazing guest contributors, have reflected our original goal. We’re excited that you’ve all made this possible by reading, contributing, and tweeting. While we come from different disciplines, backgrounds, and industries, it doesn’t mean that we can’t build conversations that stretch outside our institutional circles for support, new ideas, and collaborations.

To celebrate our one year anniversary, we’re very excited to announce that Ethnography Matters is expanding! Nicolas Nova is joining EM as a regular contributor. You may be familiar with Nicolas as he has written several guest posts already for EM. He brings a lot of experience and expertise in design research, interaction design, and speculative applied ethnography. Nicolas is based in Switzerland, teaches at the Geneva University of Arts and Design, and works closely with design and corporate firms throughout Europe, so we look forward to expanding EM to the European community of ethnographers. He co-founded Lift, a conference that has often been described as the cozier & smaller version of TED. He’s been blogging about his research since 2003 on Pasta & Vinegar.
We thought it would be fun to introduce Nicolas by asking him some questions about, of course, ethnography! And if you have any more questions for Nicolas, ask in the comments section below. 
How did you discover ethnography?
I “formally” discovered ethnography during my undergraduate degree in Cognitive Sciences when studying in France. Aside from classes in experimental psychology, we had courses in linguistics and cultural anthropology which is where I ran across this field and its approach. I remember that the lectures were fascinating, and the assignments were even more intriguing. We had to run interviews and observe curious topics such as how car-makers named auto-parts and their color, or how people make sense of the spatial environment. What caught me as interesting at the time was the approach, as it was totally different than the controlled experiments we had to run in Cognitive Psychology. Now that I think about it, the gap between these research endeavors is also huge in an epistemological sense, and I’m not sure that people in our program got that from the outset, but it was a marvelous opportunity to understand ethnography.
What did you enjoy about it when you started to learn about it? 

What I enjoyed was that it framed the way I was curious about the world, artifacts, people, and what they were doing. It basically corresponded to a more rigorous approach compared to something I use to do as a kid with my brother: going anywhere, sitting on a bench and looking at people, trying to make sense of what they were doing… an activity we used to called very naively “street physiognomy” (which, in retrospect, wasn’t physiognomy at all since we were focused on people’s activities).
Read More… We’re growing! Nicolas Nova Joins Ethnography Matters as a Contributor

The Ethnographer’s Reading List: Nicolas Nova takes us back to objects, public spaces, and lines….yes lines [guest contributor]

Credit: Matt Cottam

A few months ago we interviewed Nicolas Nova in A Retrospective of Talks by Ethnographers at Lift Conference. Now we finally  have Nicolas grace  us with a peek into his brain with his summer reading list.  A bit more about Nicolas from his bio: 

Nicolas Nova is a consultant and researcher at the Near Future Laboratory. He undertakes field studies to inform and evaluate the creation of innovative products and services. His work is about exploring and understanding people’s needs, motivations and contexts to map new design opportunities and help designers and engineers. Nicolas applies this in the domains of video games, mobile and location-based media as well as networked objects/robots. He also teaches user research in interaction design at HEAD-Geneva and ENSCI-Les Ateliers in Paris. He holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Swiss Institute of Technology (EPFL, Switzerland). He is also editorial consultant for the Lift Conference. In his free time, he collects video game controllers and peculiar interfaces dug up in flea markets here and there.

If you would like to contribute to the “Ethnographer’s Reading List,” send us an email! – Tricia


This summer I’m spending the months of July and August in California for a visiting researcher’s residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, working on a project about rituals and gestures of the digital everyday. Because of that topic, the books I’ve bought for the summer are quite influenced by this project. They’re not about methodologies, but more about case studies concerning design, material culture, ethnography and architecture. Each of them seems to be feeding our investigation here:

Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (Alison J. Clarke Ed.)

An interesting anthology describing various case studies about how different designers benefit from observing people when making new things. What caught my attention here is the wide breadth of examples presented and the description of what happens beyond data collection. As a matter of fact, several books (and presentations) I’ve read recently address the data part but are less verbose about how to turn this into “something”. And I have to admit that I’m interested in that “something”, be it a commercial product, a design fiction or a good discussion with friends. Some essays are of course more relevant to me than others but it was overall a good compilation that also covers examples beyond commercial products sold next year.

Read More… The Ethnographer’s Reading List: Nicolas Nova takes us back to objects, public spaces, and lines….yes lines [guest contributor]

A Retrospective of Talks Given by Ethnographers at Lift Conference since 2006

Pic by Ed Horsford

ImageOf all the conferences that are dedicated to discussions on technology and society, there’s one that has continued to consistently curate an amazing line of up speakers while maintaining an intimate environment for meaningful exchanges without any elitist barriers to participation –  Lift! Since 2006, I’ve been following Lift because they continually have featured speakers who focus on the social side of technology.

So when Nicolas invited me to speak at Lift ’12 in Geneva, I broke my promise to not leave my field site for a year. I took a break for a week and it was well worth it because I got to meet people whose work I’ve been following for a while. I was also forced to analyze my data, which wasn’t a bad thing. My talk, Dancing with Handcuffs: The Geography of Trust in Social Networks, was about some of the ethnographic work I’ve been doing this past year in China.

After my talk, I had a chance to chat with one of the people I’ve been virtually brain-lusting for years,  Nicolas Nova, ethnographer, co-founder of Lift, and Lift program curator. Nicolas found time to sit down with me to give a retrospective of past ethnographers who have given talks at Lift.

Oh and one of the best parts about Lift is that there are videos for each speakers! Each of the talks are around 15 to 20 minutes and they are pretty dense, so read this when you have a chance to ponder about the wonders of life and ethnography!Read More… A Retrospective of Talks Given by Ethnographers at Lift Conference since 2006