How to Conduct Ethnography Like Studio Ghibli's Hayao Miyazaki

Apply design thinking to your discovery process by getting out of the building and spending time with the people whose problem you are hoping to solve or are hoping to accurately and empathetically depict. All too often we are speculating as to the needs, hopes, and characteristics of people we spend little or no time with. While this can be valuable information to help kick off the start of a great project, allocating all of your resources toward a solution that's based on these preliminary data can eventually be wasteful, catastrophic, offensive, or coincidental at best.

Try getting out of the building. Literally – get up from your office chair, walk toward the door, and exit the building. One of the core values of design thinking is the human centered approach that seeks to develop a sense of empathy with stakeholders. This means building a rapport with them, becoming a professional guest, and creating a meaningful dialogue that not only establishes trust between researcher and stakeholder, but also reveals the cultural, economic, and social realities hidden below the surface. 

Hayao Miyazaki Visits a Hospital
to Learn about Living with Hansen's Disease

“While making [the film] Princess Mononoke, I thought I had to depict people who are ill with what’s clearly called an incurable disease, but who are living as best they can...I felt clearly that I had to represent these people who suffered from a disease thought of at the time as [karmic inheretance] and yet strove to live their lives fully.” Miyazaki recently said at a symposium. 

While making the film, Miyazaki visited a Tama Zenshoen, a sanatorium for Hansen’s Disease (also known as Leprosy) in Tokyo where he met with former patients that had been cured, drawing upon his experiences for the film. He got out of the building and went to see for himself. 

Try this! The Ethnographic Interview

Ethnography is the practice of gathering data through observations, conversations, participation in rituals, and varied forms of documentation. The goal is to explore the realities of a stakeholder group by becoming a temporary professional guest.

Find the Right People and Place
Look for people you are designing for, particularly stakeholders at the extreme end of the spectrum. If you are designing an online course, for example, you will want to interview people who love e-learning, as well as those who have never taken a course online in their life. I also recommend looking for a setting that feels natural. Being questioned in a police station is a very different experience than having an officer offer to shoot some hoops with you at the park where you normally play.  

Make sure your tools are easy to carry around and not overly obtrusive to the interview. One of the most remarkable things I’ve seen as an ethnographer is the use of emerging technology such as 360/virtual reality video in order to avoid pointing cameras directly at people. This puts them at ease. At the very least, ensure you have a notebook and pen handy to write notes.

Introduce Yourself
Go beyond the obvious and share a bit about yourself. If you are interviewing a mother and reveal that you are also a mother, the shared experience can help establish common ground between yourself and the interviewee. One of the most refreshing things about taking an ethnographic approach is that you get to bring more of yourself to the field. One of my best moments in learning about the lives of others was uncovering a common love for Rai music with two Algerian men at a small, after-hours bar, in Paris, France. I shared about myself. They opened up. Empathy was the result.

Document Interesting Moments
Look for moments where people are doing things differently from what they say they do. These seemingly contradicting moments can prompt further inquiry and help you discover other pieces of the puzzle. For example: a company that says they embrace diversity but do not implement diversity beyond the PR department.

Keep an Open Mind  
Check your opinions at the door. It’s ok for us to bring ourselves to the interview. This is what differentiates anthropology from ethnography. But I encourage you to come in with an open mind and the ability to create psychological safety. You want the truth, right? Put yourself in their shoes, or better yet, walk in them. I once met Steve Lopez from the Los Angeles Times and he told me about how he went as far as spending late nights with Nathaniel, the protagonist in his piece about a violinist living on Skid Row. Be safe, but get ready to explore beyond your comfort zone.

Silence is ok
Let there be silence. If the person you are speaking with is silent, it means they are thinking. Do not complete their thoughts. Be patient. Let nuggets of insight come out naturally.


Looking for a partner to help uncover the needs of your constituents? 

Models of Impact Live! Futures Edition

Models of Impact Live! kicked off with a futures theme a few weeks ago. Thank you to everyone that watched via live stream and participated with us on facebook! We had a great time going over our fun methodology for designing business models through the convergence of revenue, impact, and factors of interest. 

In this debut episode, we came up with three different business inventions based on the outcome of each role of the die! One roll, two rolls, and three rolls for each subsequent invention round. In order to make use of our colorful 12 sided die, we preselected 12 revenue models, impact models, as well as 12 factors of interest. When practicing at home, you can choose your own models from the glossary as well as number of factors as long as you use die with enough sides to give each model a chance at being considered! 

For this episode we chose a futures theme in celebration of the release of our new book, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise – a book that explores a history and methodology for building futures oriented business ideas. After every invention workshop, our team puts together a Models of Impact Canvas in order to encapsulate the idea as well as a series of different scenarios, an outline of opportunities, risk, as well as a way to test. Here's what we came up with! 

Idea #1 (1-1-1)
Factor of Interest: Virtual Reality
Impact Model: Fair Trade
Revenue: Freemium

Idea #2 (2-2-2)
Factors of Interest: Virtual Reality, Drones
Impact Model: Fair Trade, 1 for 1
Revenue Model: Coupons, Event Tickets

Idea #3 (3-3-3)
Factors of Interest: Mars, Drones, Robots  
Impact Model: Conscious Sourcing, Percentage Inventory, Social Awareness
Revenue Model: Project flat fee, Sponsorship, E-commerce

After exploring each idea, we go into the details about what opportunities there within each model, what the risks are, and ways to test the idea for rapid validation. Perhaps there is local organization of street performers we can partner with to execute idea #3. The risk may be that self-organized groups often lack the leadership to work with, and thus could pose a problem. One way to test would be to hold a meeting and discuss with the group. Easy! 

Stay tuned for our next Models of Impact Live! where we take your ideas and create business models that help the world in meaningful ways and create revenue for sustainability and growth. 

Are you interested in business model design workshop for your organization or venture? Our team of strategists are eager to help facilitate an engaging workshop for you and your team! Learn more about Models of Impact here or click below to contact us! 

Brand's Role in the Purchase Process: Living Stage (1/4)

The idea that needs trigger purchase behavior has been around since the advent of marketing studies. But today brands play a larger role in our lives – whether they become part of our daily entertainment, our educator, or as a vehicle for social change that appeals to our greatest aspirations. These are just a few examples that encapsulate the relationship we currently have with brands. We can further break down the role of  brand into what Wharton Professor, Barbara Khan, outlines as the four stages of the customer journey - Living, Planning, Shopping, and Experience. In this article we will examine the first stage, the living stage. 

The Living Stage (Part 1 of 4)

People go about their daily lives and when a need is triggered, they either look to available solutions, or begin researching into possible options. I’m at home and feel hungry, I can either go to the fridge or look to other options: delivery, dining out etc. What if I’m a new city? I may look up options on a rating app, or ask a friend who lives nearby. Sometimes, however, the trigger comes not from need, but by the marketplace: a new 360 camera is released and it’s features far surpass what’s currently available. The trigger may also come from a brand as they announce the launch of a completely new product in the market, or expand the options within their product category. What’s certain, is that your brand must fall into the consideration set when these needs are triggered. To fall into that set, you have to have visibility and a message that cuts through the clutter. Our team can help. 

Types of triggers:

  • Change of life status (marriage, baby, moving to new city)
  • Market (product announcement, sale)
  • Influencers (fashion, industry, celebrities, friends)
  • Need (your car breaks down, hungry, etc)
  • A brand introduces new possibilities within a product category (ipads, new flavor ice cream, virtual reality)

Things to consider:

  • Being at the right place at the right time
  • Leveraging positive emotional queues
  • Differentiated marketing stimuli
  • Being bold without being wreckless
  • How to test marketing messages  
  • Micro-moments when potential customers turn to their mobile device for solutions.

Questions to ask your team:

  • What are the triggers associated with our product? 
  • What are the intention-filled micro-moments throughout the day that could facilitate behavior toward purchase?
  • Is our creative triggering demand? How can we test it in real market conditions?
  • Is there data missing from our analysis? 

Are you leaving money on the table? Missing opportunities to connect with potential customers or donors? Let's talk. 



Job Opportunity: Design Strategist at verynice (Apply by 9/2)

We are looking for a Design Strategist to join our team in Downtown Los Angeles! Please see the description for the role below, and apply by 11:59pm PST on 9/2/2016 with a resume, cover letter, two references and portfolio to be considered in this round of applications. We ask that you direct all materials and applications to ( with the subject line designating the position you are applying to.

Design Strategist (Full Time)

The Design Strategist at verynice reports directly to the Managing Director in order to develop new strategic methodologies, define the scope of work for new client engagements, and lead a diverse range of client-facing strategic project initiatives.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Strategic leadership for new business development by determining the needs of a client in order to define the project scope for verynice’s proposals.

  • Conducting and leading verynice’s design strategy services including relevant research and project execution across the following service areas: brand strategy, experience design, business strategy/product development, facilitation, and general consulting.

  • Leadership and mentorship for team members, ensuring the success of our projects, and the ultimate alignment with the client’s end goals.

  • Participation in networking events and conferences, acting as a public face for verynice and delivering thought leadership in design, strategy, and social impact.


2-3 years of experience. A Bachelor's Degree in a related/relevant field. Interdisciplinary MBA/MFA desired, but not required.

To be considered for this role, please send your resume, cover letter, portfolio and two references to by 11:59pm PST on 9/2/2016.

Design Principles: Form Follows Function

One of the most fundamental design principles everyone should know, is that beauty in a well designed product is the outcome of achieving success criteria. For some this can mean users adopting a product such as an app, for others this can mean success in users not using a product or ceasing  to behave in a way that may be harmful. Form follows function. Sounds familiar?  

Through the lens of marketing, product management, and strategic decision-making, this means a series of trade offs in the allocation of resources. Consider a team designing a new watch that tells surfers when there’s an oncoming swell. They have a finite set of resources. Their goal is to validate their assumption that the watch is dependable, accurate, and durable in extreme conditions - most of all, that surfers will use it. How do they decide what to spend on?

The correct answer is, whatever achieves the success criteria. While aesthetics and ornamentation play a key role in persuasion and fashion, it should be considered in light of the product’s primary success criteria – giving surfers a waterproof watch that accurately displays data. Now consider a team designing a watch meant to be worn by a model in a fashion magazine shoot. The success criteria changes considerably. A lone diamond at the top of the bezel and a minimalist design will work to turn heads in a culturally relevant way. 


Now here’s the mic drop: Meet your success criteria, and your product will have achieved optimal form. The question should not be, what is more important – rather, what factors are most important in order to meet our success criteria? Design is always intentional, never arbitrary. 

Here are a few examples of success criteria:

  • Legibility

  • Comprehensibility

  • Aversion

  • Artistic integrity

  • Durability

  • Speed and accuracy

  • Differentiation

  • Extreme affordability

How are you honing in on your product’s success criteria? Perhaps you want to identify preemptive success criteria? Looking for design thinkers? We've got you. 

Be a Design Conscious Copy Cat

Funny title to this blog post but the sentiment is there. If you are writing body copy for something that will eventually be published, it's to your benefit to understand how the message can be best communicated once it's in the hands of your graphic designer. Think of a written page as a meal, it should look delicious and inciting even before you taste it. Getting to this point, the marriage of words and design to communicate a message, is what we call typography

Pages from Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise | Designer: Kate Manos

Pages from Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise | Designer: Kate Manos

Great published material happens when writers and designers are in sync. That means adhering to an agile, yet realistic timeline of deliverables, and plenty of communication up front to avoid costly revisions and overhead expenses in later phases. The best thing to do is to have a solid brief that outlines all success criteria in addition to having a healthy regard for the reading experience. 

Here are a few questions to consider when writing for something that will be handed off to a designer:

  1. What is the profile of the primary audience? Who are they? What makes them tick? 
  2. What approach should you take to communicate to this audience?
  3. Why will this audience be interested?
  4. Who will have to approve final copy? Will they also approve design?

Pro Tip For Copywriters:
Let your ideas flow. Accept that most of them will be half baked at first and when you come to a stopping point, take a look at your core message, audience profile, and business objectives to see if they meet the criteria. What is the overall benefit you are trying to focus on? Make sure that your written words actually work toward your goals. And remember that (I love saying this) you cannot be creative and critical at the same time. Separate those two phases and respect the mindset within each of them. Allow yourself to flare with ideas before thinking critically about what you have. That's how creativity works! 

Designing for the Future | An interview with Jake Dunagan

Strategy, at the core, looks at desired outcomes and the decisions made to achieve them. At verynice, thinking about the future is not just best practice, it's something we hope to educate the world about. Meet Jake Dunagan, for the last two years, Jake has led the effort at verynice and most recently contributed to our new book, 'Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise.' We sat down to discuss what futures work means and how organizations can build this capacity. 

How would you describe your work?

The core of what I’m trying to do is to help people understand change, envision alternative futures, and then actively build a better world. This is done through a battery of theories, techniques, and processes. Futures thinking favors those that can connect dots at an abstract level, across a wide range of fields, and then drill down to the details of how trends and emerging issues might interact, amplify, or deflect in possible real-world contexts.  It is a challenging, but often thrilling endeavor. One is always at the edge of one’s capacity, and learning how to learn (fast) is key.

One of the best ways to learn is through direct experience. But we can’t directly experience the future because the future only exists as a projection from the present (and conditioned by the past). To try and help overcome that, I’ve been involved in a technique called experiential futures, or design futures. This is a process of deeply investigating a subject, developing a compelling story, and then making that story tangible through graphic media, the built environment, performance, and other artifacts from the future.

My colleague Stuart Candy and I recently published a paper on a particularly momentous project we led in Phoenix, as part of the Emerge conference.

Can futurists predict the future?

Not any that I’m aware of! The world is a complex system, with fluctuating perturbations, unexpected events, and strange behavior. We might be able to make predictions about certain things, like elections, but even then, with usually only two candidates and a mass of polling information, we’re often wrong.

So, for me and many other futurists, prediction is a fool’s game. The better approach is to prepare rigorously for complex, accelerating, non-linear alternatives. Because we can’t predict THE Future doesn’t mean we can’t increase our foresight capacity and improve our chances for making better choices--to steer toward better future while being ready to take sometimes drastically different directions that we had originally planned. This goes for individuals, but I’m mostly interested in group and society-level strategies at this stage.

You recently contributed to ‘Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise’ What do you hope people take away from this book?

First, that foresight and futures can make any endeavor better. Futures studies is not just about high-tech clichés.

Second is that business itself is an invention, and can be re-thought, re-designed, and re-deployed in new ways. As my mentor, Jim Dator, likes to say, “the world is a social invention, and we are social inventors.”

Third, is that it is not only our option to re-design business and society, it is our responsibility. We are ethically bound to leave a decent world for those future generations to come. Future-oriented, socially-minded business could be a big part of how we overcome some of the systems challenges we face.

What are some big things to consider in the next 5,10, 20 years?

There are always new technologies to consider, and we certainly can see current events casting their shadow on the future. But to take it a step more abstract, I think the biggest thing we are going to face in the next 20 years is the question of how to be an ethical person. Nothing in that question is stable. We are challenging long-held beliefs about human nature, the mind, individuality, etc. We also live in a world of extremely turbulent change, so even if we somehow figure out ourselves, the self will be in a new world almost every day. We’re going to have to get used to irreducible ambiguity, and do the best we can with the knowledge we have.

A long-term, systems-level view that is emotionally connected to living beings is how I orient myself. And, stealing from Jim Dator again, I take my work seriously, but not myself.

Is there anything organizations can do now to prepare?

Get real about there not ever being a return to “normal” times (if we ever had normal times), and then get professional help. My four-step argument about futures is this: 1. All humans think about the future. 2. We are not very good at it. 3. It is not our fault (spoiler, it’s baked into our brains), and 4. There’s something we can do about it.

The “something” we can do about it comes from three generations of scholars and practitioners developing tools and techniques to think about the future more usefully. Seek out futures thinking tools, raise your foresight capacity. I mentioned “professional” help, and that’s what we provide at verynice, but in reality, the best outcomes are when students, companies, organizations or agencies take this initial learning and make it their own, and leave us behind. My goal is to have hundreds of “former” clients doing their own futures work, and becoming architects of better futures. I think we’ll all be better off in that scenario.

Designing a Manifesto: Getting Gritty with Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise

To fully understand this post, I suggest you hop over to and download Matthew Manos’s new book, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise. Better yet, donate $25 or more, and come Fall, we’ll ship you your own limited-edition, signed, and numbered print copy.


One of the best parts about being  designer is getting to try different styles, whether you want to or not. For me, my go-to vibe is clean, gridded. Classic. Examples: This blog. My website (don’t look at it, it’s not ready for you yet). Lots of white, lots of Gotham, lots of quirky hand-drawn bits to liven it all up a little. Comfortable. Clearly I’ve found my safe-space. But when you’re handed the assignment of visually interpreting a manifesto… clean, safe, and ample white-space just isn’t going to cut it.

Reading Part 01 of Matthew’s manuscript (lovingly titled FULLDRAFT-TowardaPreemptiveSocialEnterprise 2.gdoc), I knew this endeavor couldn’t be conceived in Photoshop, InDesign, or anywhere that wasn’t tangible, haptic, flammable—the real world. I was going to have get my hands dirty.

I like to get into these kinds of projects with the help of adjectives, verbs and nouns. It’s helpful when scouring the internet for “inspiration” (read: stuff I like and want to rip off). “Manifesto.” Cut and paste. Xerox. Photocopy. Glitch, grimy, grungy. Halftone, screenprint.

The feeling I got from these manifestos is that they had to be created and distributed quick. Cheaply.  No time for $249 typefaces for web and desktop. No colors, nothing fancy. Quick, rapid; print 500 and get them into the hands of the people tonight. Cut it up, paste it, copy it, fold and you’re done. Hustle.

Something Matthew and I have in common is we like a good set of rules (ironically). I decided this: only standard issue fonts (Impact. Courier New. Times New Roman. Optima). No colors. Not too many photos. And so, I got to work: the Manifesto was created in InDesign solely with our old “favorite,” Impact. Printed out. Cut up. Rearranged. Scanned back in. Manipulated.

The manifesto goes through a transformation. It starts out with organic, analog manipulation. I printed out. I crumpled, cut, burned, soaked—those poor pages never stood a chance.

As you move through the pages, the images begin to shift and become something else; something digital, modern, almost disturbing. Some pages are a combination of both, but by the end, it’s clear that we’re in a reality of the digital, of the screen.

Of course, the manifesto isn’t the only part of the book, it’s just Part 01 of 03—but don’t let me spoil it for you. Go get your own copy; once we’re out of them, they’re gone forever, guaranteed.

Matthew Manos Discusses New Book On Future of Social Enterprise

As collaborators with hundreds of entrepreneurs at both entry level and scale, it's clear to us that the core goal of business is, as Peter Drucker famously wrote, "to create a customer"– however you define customer. But what if you anticipate the customer's needs? Design thinking guides us in the identification of problems and opportunities, and lean startup thinking helps us dial in the solution. To that end, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise creates an exciting space for discussing entrepreneurship within the context of building the future we wish to live in, or solving problems before they happen. I sat down with our Founder, and colleague, Matthew Manos to talk about this exciting new book and why everyone involved in social impact should be reading it.

What is this book about?
Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise is a manifesto and collection of essays inspiring a new generation of social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders to move from a founding principle that is informed by reaction to one that is driven by strategic foresight. "Social entrepreneurship is almost always too late. As practitioners of social enterprise, we hold the assumption that our responsibility is to exclusively act post-crisis in order to gradually chip away at a persistent problem, or to maintain a state of peace. The art of reaction is necessary, but the expectation of post-traumatic innovation as the singular starting point for an entire industry is limiting. What if social enterprise was also responsible for preemption? What if social entrepreneurs were also futurists?"

What is preemptive social enterprise?
A preemptive social enterprise is the opposite of a reactive social enterprise, the norm of socially responsible innovation. While traditional for-profit enterprise is rewarded for investing in visions of the future, social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders are rewarded for reacting to problems that already exist. While it is crucial that the social sector continues to react to the problems of today, we advocate for the integration of strategic foresight in that practice.
Through this book, we have revealed reaction as a critical shortcoming in the practice of social entrepreneurship - the fact that entrepreneurs often launch a business inspired by a traumatic event. By considering the future as an ally, social entrepreneurs can move beyond band-aid solutions, and can be inspired to think more holistically/systemically about a problem.

How did you arrive at this idea?
The notion of moving toward a more preemptive social enterprise is a concept that I originally developed during my MFA thesis work at the ArtCenter College of Design. While I was a student there, I was developing scenarios around a future in which humanly perceivable problems will be harder and harder to come across (due to the acceleration of technology). The work became interested in this idea of adopting tools that can allow us to be more preemptive in order to stay ahead of the curve. In the years since completing that thesis work, verynice has continued to prove the value of futures thinking in social enterprise through our work with entrepreneurs and academic institutions around the globe.

Why is this an important topic now?
In any election cycle in the U.S., we often highlight our culture's reactionary nature. These quick assumptions/reactions often miss the boat on proposing solutions that are more systemic, and as a result, bigotry and band-aid solutions to deeply systemic problems prevail. As a culture, we need to understand the implications of our solutions by adopting more methods that allow critical thinking to flourish. Futures is one great way to do that.

What was the criteria for choosing the contributors on this book?
The book features over 20 voices - this is strategic in the sense that the future is too big of a topic for one individual to carry the weight of in a single book. I selected contributors who are thought leaders in their respective fields, but specifically requested the participation of futurists. Futurists are tasked every day with imagining the implications of traumatic events, scanning trends, and understanding emerging issues so that we all may be more preemptive, or at least know what we are doing with.

What do you hope comes out of this project?
If even one social entrepreneur picks up this book and says, "Hey, how can I continue the great work that I'm doing, but also set aside time to reflect on the implications of my work in order to ensure I am tackling the right problem?", I will be happy.

Who did you write this book for?
This book was written for the next wave of social entrepreneurs. More and more business schools have dedicated courses and even programs for the practice of social entrepreneurship. The really exciting implication of this institutional support is the fact that we will see the number of social enterprises multiply in the next 4-5 years. The book is written for any social entrepreneur, but especially the new social entrepreneur.

What is the connection between this book and your last book, How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free?

An excerpt from the book's afterword addressed this question:

" 2012, I decided that the only way we could achieve our mission of alleviating nonprofit expenses would be to inspire a new movement in pro-bono. To accomplish this, we open-sourced our business model and proprietary methodologies by way of publishing a book: How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free. As a result of this initiative, we have inspired thousands of practitioners to engage in pro-bono work around the world.
After publishing the second edition of our book in 2014, I realized that social entrepreneurs needed even more tools that could allow them to create their own unique business model, driven by impact, just as I managed to do with Give Half. Enter our second major initiative: Models of Impact.
Models of Impact is a toolkit that allows people to create innovative business models for social, environmental, or personal impact. The Models of Impact project is part of a greater initiative to open-source every model of impact. Our vision is to enable legacy by making systemic approaches to long-term change more tangible, actionable, and accessible. With thousands of entrepreneurs and educators now leveraging the Models of Impact toolkit (as of 2016), we estimate that the toolkit has generated over 7,500 new impact-driven business concepts. With the immense volume of ideas being generated, the almighty question of "why?" can't help but present itself to me. Our manifesto, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, is one attempt to answer that question."