Title: Observational Research Report - Essay Prowess

Title: Observational Research Report


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Title: Observational Research Report

Weight (%): 50%

Assessment Type: Written Report

Word count: 500

Submission requirements: PDF

Upload presentation PDFs to Virtual Pin-Up by 9am Saturday in

Assessment Description and feedback process:

Research is methodical searching, to see new things, or existing things in new ways, but in ways that also allow other people to see those things too. A fundamental skill in researching is therefore observing, documenting and analysing what you have observed. Researcherly observing is challenging because we must learn to do what we do every day in new, and more careful ways.

You will organise and present prose descriptions of the context, conduct and analysis of your observational research, a field note sample, and a visual essay, comprising a series of annotated and extensively captioned images that communicate clearly new, significant aspects of your observation that emerge from your analysis.

The observational research report will be supplemented by a list of 10 precedents and 10 peer-reviewed papers that are directly related to your observed issue to contextualise what you have observed with the observations of others in your field of practice in art, design and curating. This task introduces skills in observing and identifying an issue, locating other researchers in art, design and curating who have observed something similar and reporting on what you have found to transform everyday looking into researcherly observing.


Select a room or space in your home and nominate two times of day that you will observe and visually document what happens in that space at regular intervals or on a daily/weekly basis. If possible, choose a setting where people are doing things that are related to your area of study, such as someone using an electronic device if you’re doing HCI, or reading a book/mag/website if you’re a graphic designer, or how people move through open spaces with social distancing rules if you’re observing outside areas that are visible from inside your home.

Choose two distinct kinds of practices that people usually perform at such places. These might be as obvious as ‘preparing breakfast’ or ‘rendering a design’ or as minor as ‘watching a movie,’ or something in-between like ‘checking social media while eating breakfast,’ ‘talking about a design idea in the kitchen,’ or ‘taking a rest in a seat.’ The two you pick should be very different kinds of practices so that you do two quite different kinds of observing. Your assignment may turn out to involve observations of another practice that you just happened to notice during your visit that you didn’t necessarily expect to see, so do not be concerned about what you choose at first. The purpose is to practice noticing and documenting what you notice.

You need to do a series of observations:

–Observe the same practices on different days or at different times of the day

–Try to observe different kinds of people doing the same practice

–Observe individuals and groups, if possible (see NOTE ON RESEARCH ETHICS BELOW)

–At some point, ask people you are observing, perhaps just after seeing them perform the practice, about what they think they were doing; then if possible ask someone else to talk you through what they are doing as they perform the practice (see NOTE ON RESEARCH ETHICS BELOW)

–Having formulated some distinctive hypotheses (as discussed in the lecture: if [warrant], and [experiment], then [prediction]) about the practices you are observing, redo the observations to see if you can confirm what your hypotheses say you should be seeing.

Your observations should be aimed at:

–Noticing human-human, human-thing and human-technology interactions

–Patterns in these interactions

–Distinct versions of the practice that do not follow the usual patterns

–Difficulties people are having with the practice

–In general, you are looking for things that are odd or surprising to you. Your task is to choose the patterns and/or anomalies in the practice interactions you observed that are significant (for understanding people, places or practices in new ways, or for redirecting those practices in valuable ways) and then to communicate their significance and to whom they might be significant.


As you do your observations be sure to:

–Make double-column time-stamped field-notes (as discussed in the lecture: one column of empirical descriptions of what you observe and when, a second column of questions that occur to you about what you are observing)

–Take photographs or do illustrations if you have the skills (see NOTE ON RESEARCH ETHICS BELOW).


Having conducted your first observation of two practices, you should CHOOSE ONE and analyse your documentation – both your images and written fieldnotes. You should experiment with different ways of annotating and grouping your observations into distinct categories, in order to discover new insights about the practice you observed. When you see new things in your documentation, return to the observation site to see if you can confirm them.


Once you have confirmed your insights, create a visual essay that tells the story of the practice context, what you noticed about patterns and anomalies, and the significance of this new knowledge for the practice. Then develop an hypothesis consisting of a claim, evidence and warrant, that reflects what your visual essay communicates. This will include words andimages and should explain the steps in your analysis of the observational documentation, and how you reached your conclusion.


People in public spaces should understand that they are observable, but you should take care to never put the people you areobserving at risk or even impose on them in any way without permission. Some tips:

  • Ensure that the place you are in allows you to document what people are doing, such as taking photographs
  • Anonymize your observational notes so that people are not identifiable by what you document
  • If taking pictures of people without them knowing, only ever photograph them from behind or without their face in view so they are de-identified.
  • If you do or need to take pictures of people in identifiable ways, you must ask their permission
  • When explaining what you are doing, be honest about learning to do observational research. Indicate that the outcomes will be seen only by yourself and your instructor, and if ever anyone wants to use those images in any other context, you yourself will contact the person imaged.


Assemble a digital version (as a .pdf) of the following:

  1. Prose (written) description of the context of your observation (where, when, things, people, environment, ambience)
  2. Prose (written) description of how you conducted and documented your observations (how you conducted and documented your observations, number of observations, kinds of documentation)
  3. Samples of your field-notes (choose only the best example – DO NOT INCLUDE EVERYTHING YOU DID!) and visual analyses (steps in how you made sense of what you documented)
  4. A visual essay that communicates your hypothesis and research insights. A visual essay is an integration of annotated and extensively captioned images/graphs that represent new, significant aspects of the practice you observed, that have emerged from your analysis. Research insights should be in the form of an hypothesis: a statement that makes a claim about what is going on in the practice you observed, supported by evidence emerging from your analysis of what you noticed, linked by a warrant that frames the conditions under which the claim is credible. Note: the pdf can include links to external files (audio, video, for example).
  5. A reference list (using UNSW referencing style; only texts to which you have referred in your report).
  6. A list of 10 precedents and 10 peer-reviewed articles directly related to your observed practice or hypothesis to contextualise it in relation to the observations of others in your art, design and curating practice. This task introduces skills in observing and identifying an issue, locating other researchers in art, design and curating who have observed something similar and reporting on what you have found to transform everyday looking into researcherly noticing.

Save all of the above as a single pdf and upload to Moodle by 9am Saturday in week 5. Do not submit files in formats other than pdf. If working in Photoshop, save your work as a jpg and insert into a Word document, add at least 20 words (prose descriptions and any references will suffice), then save the file as a pdf

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