Constant and variables 

A meeting or interview can be designed in a way that both parties can get the most out of it. To achieve that, we have to think beyond the usual, beyond the Q/A, and embrace the variables.

What are the different ways to transform conservation into something more?

How can I get to know more instead of just talking to you?

How can I make someone’s brain stimulate and shake it to make them think differently and give information in a different form?

These questions ignited the idea of using the drawing exercises as the main mode of research, this summer for the In-house Design research project ‘Indigenous autonomy’ based on the Navajo tribal community, led by Artist Hans Bauhmann and associated with ONWARD organization.

There is a different forms of an interview but one of the most traditional ways is the one-on-one conversation where one person asks questions and the other one replies. The interviewer is in the search of information and the interviewee is in an abundance of hidden knowledge. The whole process has solely a few constants and many variables. The constants are the intentions to ask and provide, the time frame, and the topic of discussion.

The variables are usually considered as something to be improvised upon, like, the interviewee arrived 2 hours late, the interviewer lost the documents, the mic doesn’t work, your better half is in an emergency, there is a child in the room, apocalypse, a unicorn interrupted the meeting, or a missed opportunity to allow the person you are talking to share more than just words.

In other words, a drawing exercise is a form of qualitative analysis where a set of questions are asked of the participant and he/she is expected to draw the answers sequentially, in any form they perceive, on a large sheet of paper. The motive of this activity is to understand the participant’s way of seeing(perceiving) the very reality they exist in. Here, the quality of the drawing and the correctness of the answer are not to be focused upon. The most important part is to figure out how the sequential combination of questions will lead the person to share a memorable incident or a feeling or an experience that can either be situated in their past or their future. In this journey mapping exercise, participants shared how their Navajo identity connects with the place they are currently living in, which in this case, in Los Angeles, California.

Usually, when we talk about drawing, beautiful images come to our mind but here, as also mentioned in the previous paragraph, the drawing exercise has nothing to do with creating beautiful artwork. It is about allowing a person to think in shapes, figures, lines, dots, etc., instead of verbal words. This allows for cognition. The mind forces itself to create a new chain of thoughts, build up new connections, access hidden information, and transform it to communicate in a different medium altogether. That’s where the real beauty lies. To allow this exercise to reach its full potential, the instructor or the interviewer needs to take care of a few things.

One has to understand that the person they are talking to is a human who either has never drawn or doesn’t like to draw or might be an expert artist but most of them do not draw daily. So, how to make someone comfortable with the idea of drawing in a not-so-private setting? The answer is a little bit of humor and a pregame.

After finalizing questions for the main exercise, we thought of a warm-up exercise to be performed beforehand in a group. The intention is to make them comfortable with holding a pencil, drawing answers to questions, and feeling confident about their drawings. It is crucial to perform this part in a group. The warm-up will give them an idea of what the main exercise will be like and also, will let them see that every other participant is struggling the same way that they are. This removes the anxiety, nervousness, doubts, and shyness about one’s way of drawing which is very important so that the person can perform the main exercise without worrying about any of the external factors.

This methodology has been performed before as a form of qualitative research but for this project, it has been transformed into a visual medium through which people can share their stories. It started with the idea of changing the form of the interview but developed into understanding the worldview/perception of a human being with cultural background. The people who took part in this activity belonged to the Navajo tribal community. Through the form of drawings, they shared how Los Angeles relates to them, what is their relationship to it, how they are still intact with their value system, living in a metro city, and how they perceive the world and other related aspects.