3 Questions to… FBI

In the current part of our series “3 questions to” we even get the answers from two experts. Mark Safarik was a criminal profiler with the FBI. Now he works as a writer, but also as an expert and consultant for agencies, universities, and also TV productions.

At the Design Research & Strategy Conference he will co-host an exciting workshop, together with Armin Kreiner-Norkunas, Head of Innovation and Design Management at INDEED: Profiling & Persona Development

Beforehand we asked them:

‍Mark Safarik

Mark, what makes a good profiler?

I think the basis that underlies being a good profiler or behavioral crime analyst is like
a three-legged stool. If you remove any one of the legs the stool is unable to stand on its own.

The first leg is training. You must have a level of expertise in various disciplines associated with this process that you can bring to bear on whatever level of complexity you are faced with. The second leg is education and empirical research. You have to have the tools in your tool box so that you know what to use to understand a particular attribute of a crime. You must stay current on the research that reflects on your discipline. The third leg is experience. This is the most important. You must have an extensive experiential background in order to evaluate aspects to crimes that are rare or only mean something in the context of their proximity to other activity and behaviors.

Finally, you must isolate your emotional feelings about the victims and offenders in order to evaluate all aspects of the physical, behavioral and forensic evidence from an objective point of view. Allowing emotions to cloud or bias your judgement results in conformational bias, group think and tunnel vision.

And what makes a good design researcher, Armin?

In contemporary design research and design strategy approaches, we heavily rely on very similar corner pillars and the metaphor of the three-legged stool of the FBI reflects on this similarity: Training.

In today’s broad offer of design research and design strategy agencies, we have experienced that extensive and continuous training of our team is not only one of the main differentiations factors, but it is also a key driver to provide professional, useful and especially coherent design research results. In this light, we trust in multidisciplinary and intercultural diversity of training.

Empirical research. Closely linked to the previous aspect, a diverse set of methodologies to conduct and harvest design research has proven to be the right approach to understand a potential user’s situation and draw the right conclusions. Such methodologies cover (among others) observation frameworks and interview techniques, like AEIOU, 5 human factors or laddering.

Experience. Certainly the most important one, and the one you cannot buy. Only with
relevant experience you are capable to evaluate aspects you are confronted with in design research, and similar to the FBI profiling you have to isolate your feelings and obtain an objective point of view. It happens that designers think they precisely know what users want or need, however we try to put personal feelings aside, because they cloud your judgment in design research and design strategy development. 

Above all stands the collaboration of various disciplines and a structured process with clearly defined stage gate deliverables to bring multidisciplinary findings together, to draw the right conclusions and to consolidate them to a coherent result.

Mark, what are the most crucial factors when developing offender profiles?

Developing offender profiles is only one dynamics of the process we call Criminal Investigative Analysis. Offender profilers are undertaken in cases where the offender is unknown and there is significant behavioral, and physical evidence to evaluate.

We are attempting to build an overall picture of the type of offender who committed the crime. In order to do this, we evaluate many different attributes of not only the crime and crime scene but antecedent behavior, as well as behavior at the scene and then post offense behavior. There is a flow to the crime and I need to understand what that flow is and why it makes sense in both a chronological sense as well as a time or temporal sense. We never extract and evaluate a single piece of behavioral evidence and ask the question, what does this mean. Because these pieces of information only mean something in the context of its value within the totality of all evidence, behavioral, physical, and forensic. It is a contextual evaluation where the value of something is determined by the impact of the all other pieces of evaluated evidence.

Some of the most crucial factors are understanding the victimology or why this person became the victim in this case. What was the risk level of both the victim and offender? What role did the scene play? What were the injuries, how were they inflicted, and by what? What is identified as his MO and what is his ritualized or need driven behavior. Are there any unique behavioral attributes?

‍Armin Kreiner-Norkunas

And what are the most crucial factors when developing target user profiles or personas, Armin?

In this realm, we face two main factors: the target individual and the related flow of interaction. Target individuals. When designing new means in form of products, services, systems or processes, very often we have to develop for the unknown target individuals. That means our target users are not precisely known yet, or we need to surprise or intrigue already known target groups with something new – which ultimately means there is an unknown factor involved as well. Therefore, we conduct design research in order to build an overall picture of the type of potential users – for instance in form of personas, empathy maps or jobs to be done.

These are common consolidating design research practices to step into the users’ world and communicate the findings of this world to stakeholders. Each of these working methods is built on significant evidences that are collected in ethnographic research, which is the observation, accompaniment and questioning of users in their familiar environment of application.

Flow. What is called ‘flow of crime’ in FBI profiling, we call in design research ‘a journey’ – either of a user’s, product’s or service provider’s perspective. We are mapping out the chronology of interactions and often enhance this emerging sequence with experience graphs that clearly indicate at what stages target users face positive and negative experiences. These findings are often the main source of inspiration in our development processes because they give us a glimpse of the users’ behavior.

And last question, Mark, of course we are also quite curious in this: In respect to your
profession, have TV shows like Criminal Minds been a blessing or a curse?

Shows like Criminal Minds, CSI, and Bones have been both a blessing and well, I would not say a curse, but rather have created some problems for us. Most of this has to
do with jury trials.

Juries on occasion tend to think they are more knowledgeable than they really are. This
is known as the CSI effect. Sometimes jury members think that the crime scene techs and forensic scientists should have the ability to find, uncover or extract certain types of forensic evidence because they have seen it done on TV in a very short time span. They often have higher expectations of what forensic crime scene investigators can actually do.

On the other hand, juries also tend to be better educated about various aspects of forensic science. They have heard about various processes and procedures and it does not seem so foreign to them. They often understand the limitation of finding and analyzing certain types of DNA.

Overall, I would say that the effect has moved in a positive direction.

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