[Advancing Research 2022] What Design Research can learn from Documentary Filmmaking


April 2022


2 min read

[Advancing Research 2022] What Design Research can learn from Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary filmmakers Bas and Charley have each explored video’s immense potential as a way of communicating people’s stories for decades. For them, film is not just a way to capture information, it's a way to think about information.

Video’s function as an analytical tool to understand user needs is gaining foothold in the research community, although it’s still kind of a background practice.

Ideas from documentary film and visual ethnography can bring video to the forefront of the design researcher’s work and help them tell “amazing stories that travel”. More specifically, Charley and Bas talked about how the fly-on-the-wall approach to making documentary is going out of favor. They also mentioned that the interaction between the filmmaker and the people in the film gives flavors to documentary films.

As Bas said at the event, “You have to get inside people's head to understand what comes out of their head… you need to have an insight into where they were born, the constraints around them if it's religion or culture or war or famine or money or lack of money. And you develop a better appreciation or perspective on pieces of work.”

This emergence of involvement with the participants in documentary films has blurred the lines between documentary filmmaking and user research, especially with the emergence of tools like Reduct that allow the researcher to do video editing themselves.

Watch the full fireside chat below:

💡 Binge-watch tip: Click a word to navigate the video.

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About the Speakers:

Charley Scull is a visual anthropologist, ethnographer and strategist, with a wealth of experience in consumer insights, design innovation and user research. His work has spanned industries, geographies and focal lengths: from the granularity of package design, to systems-thinking work in healthcare and forward-looking trans-global work on sustainable seafood and the future of mobility. Charley was a partner at Filament Insight & Innovation and the Practica Group before joining Meta- Reality Labs, where he now works as a Pathfinder research strategist on a future forward VR hardware team. He holds an MA in visual anthropology and a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Southern California.

Bas Raijmakers is co-founder and director of STBY, an Anglodutch studio that specialises in design research for meaningful change. With a background in social sciences and design, Bas has built a practice and studio of 8 people that extends into a network of 18 similar studios around the world in 23 countries on 6 continents: the Reach Network. International clients include Google and Spotify, and NGOs What Design Can Do and the Wellcome trust. STBY also works for national and local governments like the City of Amsterdam and the State of Jalisco, in Mexico. Many topics in STBY’s portfolio focus on complex problems that require creative reframing, from the climate emergency to team collaboration in the era of hybrid work, to trust in science during a pandemic. Bas holds a masters degree in Cultural Studies from the University of Amsterdam and a PhD in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London. He was a professor in Strategic Creativity at Design Academy Eindhoven for 8 years.

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