Copenhagen & EPIC 2008

The end of the conference is nearing and it has been quite an interesting and educational experience for me. I even had photos to share of the workshop and venue but the free wireless access at the Copenhagen McDonald’s has an upload speed that is much too slow! I arrived in Copenhagen a couple of days prior to the conference and was able to see much of Copenhagen via the metro and train systems, walking, and in truly Danish spirit, I also rented a bicycle!

I did not previously know very much about why Copenhagen was chosen as a venue for EPIC, other than a brief comment that one of my professors made about design being a very important element in the city. I had no idea how I would see this manifested. The moment I got off the airplane I began to see what was meant by this. The airport has beautiful architecture, the metro trains are comfortable with a stylish interior, and they were so easy to use that I quickly figured out how to get where I needed to go even though the ticket machines, signs, and everything else was in Danish. In addition to this, it is the little details found in public places that are clean, simple, and beautiful in their designs: water facets, tourist information centers, even trash and recyclable receptacles. It made me wonder why anything ever had to be aesthetically unpleasing or unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes it can be a matter of opinion but in many instances it can be easily measured. I immediately compared the comfortable, clean, stylish interior of the Copenhagen metro with a metro system I am more familiar with: the dirty, uncomfortable interior of the BART metro system of the San Francisco bay area which makes me cringe to sit or touch anything. It is no surprise to me that designers, ethnographers, and usability researchers have played a crucial role in many areas of Copenhagen’s public facilities, services, and strategies. This makes the city a perfect venue to support, highlight, and engage the spirit of the EPIC conference.

Held in the beautiful University of Copenhagen building, the theme of this year’s conference was Being Seen: Paradoxes and Practices of Invisibility. A wide variety of research topics related back to this theme, each bringing an intriguing new element to the challenge faced by the researchers and ethnographers as to the methods needed to unveil that which was being hidden, or going unnoticed, or being unspoken. While the panelists, presenters, and artifacts were too many to describe with enough depth to truly appreciate here, a general idea of the discussions may be evident with the session topics which included: “Working and Playing with Visibility”, “Representation in Practice: Utilizing the Paradoxes of Video, Prose, and Performance”, “Navigating People and Praxis Across Space and Time”, and tomorrow’s session, “In sight on site; revealing and sustaining valuable knowledge for coroporations”. The proceedings of the conference are already available on the website:

I was able to attend the workshop “Cut it out in cardboard” presented by Jacob Buur and Larisa Sitorus (SPIRE, University of Southern Denmark) which focused on different activities used with research subject or focus groups in order to inspire design and gain crucial usability information and data. Participants were asked to bring samples of activities that they themselves have utilized in their research. The most important thing that I took away from the workshop was that the limits are really endless as to the tools one can use in these research activities and creative activities or installations can truly create a safe environment which allows research subjects to step away from what they think they know about how something should look or work and really explore how the product, service, or system could work better for them. Among the tools used in some of the activities: play dough, video collages, materials to create “things” such as cardboard and post-its, and installations in order to gain natural reactions to a change in an environment.

Unfortunately I missed out on the after-hours festivities such as the pub crawl due to a nasty cold that made my bed seem much more tempting than beer by the end of the day, but other highlights included tours to multiple Danish companies that work specifically in the areas of user research, usability, design, and organizational development. The panel session “Directors of the Future” provided entertaining scenarios, which created discussions about the future of ethnographic praxis in industry.

In this brief summary I certainly could not discuss the activities in enough depth, however, I’ve found blogs from other participants about their EPIC experience. Since we had to make choices as to which companies to visit, and which workshops and sessions to attend, other blogs may provide a look at the workshops I did not attend. I’ve found one other but I’m sure more will surface:

I look forward to attending EPIC 2009, which has been announced, will be held in Chicago! Thank you to Mark Dawson and for the grant to attend the conference. It has certainly been a worthwhile experience for me.

2 thoughts on “Copenhagen & EPIC 2008

  1. I just realized after riding the metro that I was talking more about the S-train here in Copenhagen. It is nicer than the metro. Even still, the metro here is much cleaner and nicer than the other metros I’ve been on.

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