Week 35: In the Land of You Betcha

Having lived on the east and west coasts of the United States, my only experience in the midwest had been from an airplane window, or maybe the occasional layover. But never, you know, actually leaving the airport, exploring the city, or tasting the cheese curds. Luckily, I had the opportunity to spend several days in Minneapolis for the EPIC applied ethnography conference (aka “What are humans like and how can we use that for products and profits?”)

I admit it. I still don’t understand the appeal of the State Fair.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Snow? Sweden-lite? My college roommate was from Minnesota and the other people I’d met from there had all been so…wholesome.

21st century “wholesome” = thriving craft brew scene


All in all, it was a fantastic visit. Extensive bike share system? Check. Network of biking and walking trails throughout the city? Check. Hotel with delicious breakfast and nearby gym in the ClassPass network? Check. Restaurants and bars (and speakeasys and breweries) for days? You betcha!

But the best part of the week was the opportunity to get away from the day-to-day work taskings and learn more about the field of ethnographic research and how it can lead to good design. I met people in a variety of career fields, learned the highlights and lowlights of their worlds, and discussed the future of this profession with people who have been doing it for years. (Here’s a great article on that topic.) Before the conference, I had been struggling to decide where to go next career-wise. Is the grass greener in the private sector? Would additional education lead to exciting new adventures? (Aside from the thrill of being “Dr. Tobin,” I mean.) And while I didn’t return to DC with an exact plan, I have identified some ways to prototype potential paths (such a designer approach!). For example, this fall I plan on taking some online classes leading to a certificate (probably this or this) to see if it scratches the educational itch.

Exploring the city also gave me an opportunity to play around with my iPhone camera. It was a great way to link the “beginner’s mind” that is so key to human-centered design with my bikes and runs around town. (Plus, I got to feel fancy and artsy.) I look forward to returning to DC and exploring it with new eyes!

What are your (unexpectedly) favorite places to visit? Is anyone else experiencing the 30s “ummm so now what?” anxiety? 


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