Ethnography is now a staple discipline within user-centred design agencies and is now taken for granted. But what does this regularly over-used term mean? Ethnography can be seen as a broad research approach or even a research ‘style’, rather than one specific methodology.
The crux here, and what differentiates ethnography from conventional qualitative research (such as focus groups and online panels), is to get under the skin of everyday human behaviour, to better understand the context and the specifics of the users we are looking to engage with in the most natural way possible.
With the right methods and a healthy dose of situational curiosity, user-centred designers and researchers can uncover new insights and develop new opportunities for almost any given topic. This immediacy and often insight rich approach make ethnography perfectly suited to the front end of the design and innovation process.
Three things to remember…
1. Tag along. Primarily good ethnography is an observational process, with discreet but natural questioning – avoid interrupting the natural flow of behaviour at all costs. Think of yourself as tagging along in the background.
2. Make a narrative. We use video and lots of photography (along with notes) to capture the story and insights as we travel through the day with the subject(s). This material makes for great narratives that can be shared with the design and client teams.
3. Don’t Delay. Debrief the team and discuss insights and observations on a daily basis. Delaying this until the end of the research phase doesn’t help as the subtlety of the observation or the specific of the points get lost.