Ethnography: General Principles

The aim is to get at the complexity of people’s current experiences —their behaviors, attitudes, goals, motivations, and strategies— and to use this understanding to identify areas that can be improved through better design (whether product, service, environment, communication, or messaging solution).

There is a link made between what people currently do (and the kind of insight you can get from that understanding) and what people could be doing in the future (and, by extension, how a company’s products and services can improve an experience, set of interactions for people).

Qualitative Research is grounded in contexts of use:

  • Techniques used in combination get at complexity of a given experience (e.g. observations, interviews, activity or process demonstrations).
  • This is a more holistic approach to researching people, keeping in focus the behavioral articulation of user attributes; providing experience models with causal hypotheses where possible and meaningful.
  • Project can be tailored to a specific business challenge or set of research questions.
  • It can be exploratory, evaluative, and generative (of new ideas).
  • Uncovers what people actually do not just what they say they do (very often distinct!).
  • Reveal latent, unmet needs.
  • Identify cultural currents and assumptions embedded in beliefs, practices, and interactions.
  • In addition to understanding the “what” of behaviors, can also identify the why and the how:
    • through analysis of qualitative data, look for patterns and exceptions;
    • look for breakdowns, pain points, and strategies for coping with them;
    • look for gaps in what people are achieving and what people want to achieve; and
    • pay attention to “workarounds” as tools for innovation. Workarounds can be clues to unmet needs.