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Introduction to UX Research: Fundamentals of Design Ethnography

June 10, 2012

Introduction to UX Research: Fundamentals of Design Ethnography

Design Ethnography is usually conducted to gain a deep understanding of the client’s target market in order to apply a customer-centered approach to the strategic development of the client’s brand in the context of a complex dynamic ecosystem that borders on chaos. In addition, ethnographic research seeks to reveal insights into how the target market shares information about about their problem space and potential solutions with their immediate social cohort.

Design ethnography takes the position than human behavior and the ways in which people construct and make meaning of their worlds and their lives are highly variable and locally specific. One primary difference between ethnography and other methods of user research is that ethnography assumes that we must first discover what people actually do, the reasons they give for doing it, and just as importantly, how they feel while doing it, before we can assign to their actions and behaviors interpretations drawn from our own experiences.

Findings from a design ethnography project will influence both near-term problem setting and experience design activities, as well as longer-term interactive mediated ecosystem development development. During the study I seek to uncover pertinent insights about the target market’s experience enframing their goals, objectives, and perspectives as it directly relates to the client’s brand, and the role that these activities play with regards to interactions with their environment including context, family, friends, and community.


June 10, 2012

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  1. Ethnography can be seen as a broad research approach or

    even a research perspective, rather than one specific methodology. It covers a variety of different qualitative methods, such as participatory observation, semi-structured interviews, and video diaries that can be combined as needed to bring answers and insights to the surface. 6/10/12   2  
  2. The premise of design ethnography is that spending time in

    the contexts where people do the things that they do can inform and inspire the design process with a nuanced understanding of what drives people’s behaviour – which can then be used as a foundation for understanding and exploring various commercial problem spaces. 6/10/12   3  
  3. While the ethnographer is interested in understanding human behavior as

    it is reflected in the lifeways of diverse communities of people, the designer is interested in designing artifacts that will support the activities of these communities. 6/10/12   4  
  4. The practice is mostly associated with up-front research at the

    beginning of the design process but in my experience it is valuable to think of it as a state of mind that can infuse, inform and inspire throughout the design process and beyond – it doesn’t have to be just part of Big D design up front. 6/10/12   5  
  5. 6/10/12   6   Get the fuck out of the

    building! or – insights don’t come in a glass coffin.
  6. What is design ethnography? A tool for better, more empathetic

    design. Great design always connects with people. Designers inspire, provoke, validate, entertain and provide utility for people. To truly connect, designers need to have compassion and empathy for their audiences. Designers need to understand the relationship between what they produce and the meaning their product has for others. 6/10/12   7  
  7. 6/10/12   8   “A designer should care about ethnography

    because it can help produce more compelling, innovative design that really connects with people—in a way that creates delight.” —Darrel Rhea
  8. o  Design Research informs design by revealing a deep understanding

    of people and how they make sense of their world. o  Ethnography is a research method based on observing people in their natural environment rather than in a formal research setting. o  When ethnography is applied to design, it helps designers create more compelling solutions. 6/10/12   9  
  9. Complexity is everywhere. Ethnography offers a way to make sense

    of this complexity. It lets us see beyond our preconceptions and immerse ourselves in the world of others. Most importantly, it allows us to see patterns of behavior in a real world context – patterns that we can understand both rationally and intuitively. 6/10/12   10  
  10. “If you want to understand what motivates a guy to

    pick up skateboarding, you could bring him into a sterile laboratory and interrogate him… or you could spend a week in a skatepark observing him interacting with his friends, practicing new skills and having fun.” Ethnography is observing people’s behavior in their own environments so you can get a holistic understanding of their world—one that you can intuit on a deeply personal level.” —LiAnne Yu, cultural anthropologist 6/10/12   11  
  11. Design research as systematic approach While useful ideas can emerge

    during casual observation, the most powerful insights come from a rigorous analysis of systematically collected data. During research, you will collect photos, videos, audio, and other contextual data. These photos or images may look “unpolished” or “rough”. However, the beauty of ethnography is that what one observes is visually compelling, real and meaningful without being staged. 6/10/12   12  
  12. “Trained ethnographers derive deeper insights from observational and immersive research…

    just like designers, professional ethnographers have well- developed frameworks, processes and tools that help them be more efficient, more effective and more creative. A good ethnographer will actively encourage designers and others to participate in the process and in so doing, will fundamentally expand their way of seeing.” —Keren Solomon, ethnographer 6/10/12   13  
  13. Discover the semantics of living People have a need for

    meaning in their lives. Ethnography provides rich insights into how people make sense of their world. For example, people incorporate rituals into their lives —but some rituals are large and public while others are small and private. 6/10/12   15  
  14. Decode signifiers of cultural practices By examining the artifacts that

    reflect people’s lives, we learn what they value and hold dear. By examining how people express themselves through style and ornamentation, we gain insight into how people define themselves within a group or a community. 6/10/12   16  
  15. Make communications powerful Ethnography helps us lean how to communicate

    more effectively with people, in a language and way they understand. By observing how people process information, we learn what words and design elements evoke desired reactions. We also discover whether people miss information completely. 6/10/12   17  
  16. Be contextually relevant Ethnography helps us to learn how products,

    technologies, and communications flow in the global world. Branding, experience design and point of purchase artifacts all tell a story. Compare how experiences work around the world, even for the same products and services. 6/10/12   18  
  17. Perceive reality, not narrative What people say is not what

    they do. Ethnography highlights the differences between what people perceive they do and what they actually do. For example, while people say they eat in a healthy way, they sometimes make less-than-healthy food choices. By observing what people do (rather than taking them at their word), we learn more about the choices they make and how they perceive and filter their own actions. 6/10/12   19  
  18. Identify opportunities & pain points Behaviors provide clues to where

    problems exist Ethnography vividly identifies people’s work- arounds and guides the way towards solutions. For example, the obvious solution to improve the morning commute is a cup holder. 6/10/12   20  
  19. 1. Define a problem space What is the issue? The

    team may have started with a general sense that more information is needed about a topic – but this must quickly turn into a clearly articulated problem statement. Make sure the team has clearly stated objectives for the research before it starts. This serves as the “creative brief” in the quest for insights. 6/10/12   22  
  20. 2. Find the people Who are the people who can

    most likely shed light on the questions? Is it somebody who uses certain products or acts a certain way? Is it somebody who changes or impacts how others act? Are they people who live in a certain environment, culture or geographic location? 6/10/12   23  
  21. 3. Plan the approach Figure out a game plan for

    observations and interactions with respondents. Create a set of questions to ask consistently. Include opportunities for people to show what they own, what they value and how they do things. 6/10/12   24  
  22. 4. Collect the data Meaningful insights don’t come quickly. The

    process involves slowing down, taking everything in, using all five senses and being curious. Attitudes, mannerisms, vocabulary and group dynamics are all important. Of particular interest is how what you observe supports or contradicts what people say. Take photographs, video, audio, handwritten notes and sketches. 6/10/12   25  
  23. 5. Analyze data & interpret opportunities Analysis is time-consuming, but

    links findings to a concrete direction. The outcome of the analysis may include design principles, models, personas, user scenarios and/or experience frameworks. 6/10/12   26  
  24. 6. Search for patterns & themes While the data is

    being analyzed, search for themes or patterns of commonality; craft a story through the patterns; the team should be able to tell that story to multiple audiences, and should have a clear set of “aha’s!” and next steps. 6/10/12   27  
  25. 7. Share insights The insights that are generated through ethnographic

    research are useful to the whole team and to the client’s whole organization. Storytelling and information design can be used to communicate the value of the work and the possibilities it holds for creating something wonderful. 6/10/12   28  
  26. 8. Tell a story Information that is presented in a

    visually compelling way is more likely to intrigue, inspire and engage. Weave your insights into a compelling story. The ethnographer and the designer together have the ability to make others see and believe. 6/10/12   29  
  27. Delve deeply into the context, lives, cultures, rituals of a

    few people rather than study a large number of people superficially. 6/10/12   31   1
  28. Holistically study people’s behaviors and experiences in daily life. You

    won’t find this in a lab or a focus group. 6/10/12   32   2
  29. Learn to ask probe frequently with open questions, gathering as

    much data as possible to inform your understand. 6/10/12   33   3
  30. Keep your eyes open – constantly taking pictures, video, audio

    of every minutiae of daily existence. 6/10/12   34   4 #ShoeUpBitches by @thomas_wendt
  31. Tell your findings as stories with heroes and villains, with

    triumphs and painful experiences. 6/10/12   35   5
  32. Make connections. Collaborate with all team members to share insights,

    unpack findings, and leap from research to strategy, to solutioning. 6/10/12   36   6
  33. You started with a problem space. Map the stories gained

    from insights back to the original problem space so that it aligns with the business objectives. 6/10/12   37   And finally…. Close the circle 7