Generational Insight: The Value of Looking Backward and Forward

Session Overview

Date and Time: Monday, August 19, 4 – 5:30pm

Location: East Wing Hall, Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles

Livestream: Free for EPIC Members

Many of us work in environments dominated by short-termism and pressure for velocity and scale. Using research, reflection and humor, this session demonstrates the value of longer-term insight for meaningful innovation and for our professional lives.


Estimating the Return on Ethnographic Investment: Finding More Human(e) Ways to Measure our Impact


Katherine Metzo, Lead UX Researcher, Lowe’s

In a discipline that embraces “sensemaking” and “thick description” as core to its value, ROI (return on investment) is rarely a satisfying fit for measuring impact. Ethnographers translate what is taken for granted by one group into something that is meaningful to others. Reframing short-term, strictly monetary “returns” for the business into a more nuanced Return on Ethnographic Investment, Katherine draws on theory on representation, liminality, and institutions. She proposes a framework for understanding the long-term impact of ethnographic research using variables that have meaning and value to the communities we study as well as to those we work for.

Katherine Metzo has worked in academia, grassroots policy, market research, and design research. Finding mastery in the craft of ethnography is the thread that has followed her in each of these spaces. For her, that means understanding how to find relevant answers to both stated and unspoken questions, framing our findings in ways that engage a variety of audiences, and illuminating fundamental aspects of the human condition.

Kites Rise against the Wind: 20 Years of Research


Leah McDougald, Founder/Researcher, McDougald Research
Mackenzie Shaw, VP – Client Services, Business Ops, and Experience Strategy, McDougald Research

Across two decades, our journey as research practitioners has been undeniably dynamic, defined by moments of recognition and rejection. As we reflect on the evolution of our industry amidst shifting social landscapes, corporate upheavals, and evolving economic demands, it’s crucial to reexamine our collective role. Finding harmony within our journey, this narrative portrays how, like the flight of a kite, we remain steadfast against the gusts of change, anchored by our unyielding commitment to enhancing lived experiences through design and innovation.

With a degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies from The Ohio State University, Leah McDougald’s early career in the non-profit sector involved leading empowerment courses for survivors of abuse, shaping her commitment to understanding human needs. Her journey led her to the forefront of design research, conducting international ethnographic studies in Asia and Europe, providing a global perspective to her work. In 2014, Leah founded McDougald Research.

Mackenzie Shaw is an experienced strategist, researcher, design thinker, and problem solver with 20+ years of professional experience. Armed with an Industrial Design degree from The Ohio State University, her career spans both corporate and agency environments where she has conducted global research and led design, research, and strategy teams. With the ability to navigate the intersection of user needs and business objectives, she has an expertise in aligning stakeholders and influencing strategy.

Why Don’t We Post? Multidimensional Context Collapse and Teenagers' Generative Responses to the Original Paradigm of Social Media


Isabelle Cotton, Senior Consultant, Stripe Partners
Kristin Sarmiento, Senior Consultant, Stripe Partners
Josh Terry, Consultant, Stripe Partners
Lea Ventura, Senior UX Researcher, Meta
Shayli Jimenez, Senior UX Researcher, Meta

We explore the evolution of social media use over the past two decades, focusing on teenager’s shift away from the original social media paradigm of “broadcast sharing” and towards the “empty profile” phenomenon. Drawing upon original ethnographic fieldwork conducted across three countries, we build on existing theories of “context collapse”, examining how traditional boundaries of audience, time, and meaning blur on social platforms. We unpack how teenagers have adapted to this context collapse through multilayered, generative strategies that challenge the perceived passivity of their “empty profiles,” allowing them to reclaim social media as a place that reflects their generation’s values.

Isabelle Cotton is a digital anthropologist and social researcher. Her work centres around using anthropology as a transformative tool of empathy in digital spaces. Before leading on research at Stripe Partners, she worked at a Gen-Z insights agency that platformed minority voices. Especially when working with young audiences, she prioritises creating a research process that is mutually beneficial for both clients and participants. Isabelle holds an MSc in Digital Anthropology from UCL.

Kristin Sarmiento is an applied cultural anthropologist consulting for Stripe Partners. She specializes in using ethnographic approaches to understand the values and needs that underlie human behaviour, and applying these insights to inform business strategy, decision making, and product development. Notable projects include foundational and UX research with youth for tech innovation companies. She holds a BA in Anthropology (double minor in Linguistics and Spanish) from Mount Royal University, Canada.

Josh Terry is a consultant with a background in anthropology and history. He is particularly interested in the social and cultural dimensions of emerging digital spaces and much of his current work focuses on younger generations’ relationships with digital platforms. Josh holds an MSc in Social and Cultural Anthropology from UCL. His work and studies have been driven by a fascination in the way societies, cultures and the relationships people form both shape and are shaped by emerging technologies.

Lea Ventura is a Senior UX Researcher at Instagram Youth Experiences. Their goal is to have a positive influence on the lives of teens who use their platform by maximizing the good and mitigating the bad. Lea holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Loyola University of Chicago and previously studied Cognitive Science at Brown University.

A History of EPIC in 20 Unwritten Proposals


Evan Hanover, Director, Conifer Research

Given we will be up the road from Hollywood, Evan will explore the history of this conference – its themes and contexts – by pitching a series of unwritten submission proposals, one for each year. Reflection and humor are features throughout, and essential at moments of such achievement (20 years!) and anxiety (see: the world)...

Evan Hanover is linguistic anthropologist and strategist with Conifer Research in Chicago. He has conducted business and consumer research for 25 years in industries ranging from healthcare and financial services to automotive and boating. His passion for combining ethnographic insight with performance is perfectly encapsulated in the PechaKucha format. 2024 marks 10 years since he first stepped onto an EPIC stage.