Ethnographic research methods

29 Jul 2005 - 4:42pm
8 years ago
16 replies
6912 reads
Mauro Cavalletti
2005

Hi,

I am looking for structured methods of ethnographic field research (video or
not), or other types of research methodologies to get insights on users
behavior in context.

Does anyone have experiences that could be shared? I would like to know pros
and cons if possible.

Thank you all.

Mauro Cavalletti
Creative Director
Organic, Inc.
New York
212.827.2212
www.organic.com

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Comments

31 Jul 2005 - 9:15am
Marc Rettig
2004

Hi Mauro,
I have applied ethnographic methods to design for the last twelve years. I
hardly know where to start in answering your question, because it's a very
large topic.

In a separate message, I'll attach a description of my new little company,
Fit Associates. Not for self-promotion (which is why I omit it from the
public post), but because the project stories almost all involve some
borrowing of techniques from ethnography. Some of the stories make the
techniques more clear than others, but this might at least give you some
feel for the range of techniques we employ. If others want to see this, just
ask me off-list.

When talking about field techniques, and when creating a research plan, I
tend to draw from four broad categories of methods:

Observation
shadowing, video observation, camping in one spot, etc.

Interviews
structured, unstructured, story elicitation, intercept interviews....

Self-reporting
Disposable camera studies, journaling, beeper studies, probes, etc...

Making things
Collaging, time-lines, co-design sessions, ....

In designing a project, we tend to use multiple techniques across a
carefully chosen range of participants. For example, for a recent
oven-related project we watched people prepare meals and interviewed them as
things went a long. We repeated this the day they took ownership of their
oven, three weeks later, and three weeks after that. Each time we spent
hours in their house, along the way learning a lot about how the stove and
the kitchen fit into household life.

For a project in financial decision-making, we did lots of interviews, but
we also did things like asking people to "draw their finances," which
elicited all sorts of attitudes and mental models that would not otherwise
have come out through questioning.

Finally, I'll say that it's one thing to gather data, which is what your
question seems to be about, and another things to *translate* that data into
valid insights and implications for design, strategy, or marketing. This is
another topic with its own list of techniques for analysis, synthesis, and
communication. For another thread someday, I suppose.

At some point in the next few weeks, our new site will go up, and the plan
is for it to have an extensive set of links on this topic area.

You asked about pros and cons. If you are asking about the tradeoffs for
particular techniques, well, it's less a matter of pros and cons, and more a
matter of having lots of methods in your bag of tricks, then being wise in
choosing from that bag to match the questions faced by the team, the point
in the product cycle, and the constraints of the project.

If you're asking about the pros and cons of using ethnographic techniques at
all, hmmm....

PROS -- I know of no better way to connect the form and behavior of a design
with the real complexities of people's lives. Especially early in the
product cycle, when you're trying to decide what to make, what it should do
for people, how it will fit into the things they already do, think, believe
and say.

CONS -- The biggest thing that comes to mind is really a symptom of the
current state of the industry in regard to applying these techniques. The
number of people who are experienced in this kind of work is smaller than
the demand. Management in most companies is cautiously beginning to place
value on these methods (thanks to all the coverage in the business press,
NPR, etc.), but doesn't really understand how to *integrate* it into the
product cycle and organization. So lots of people are out there doing their
best in much less than ideal circumstances.

Cheers,
Marc Rettig

. . . . . . . . . . . .
Marc Rettig
Principal
Fit Associates
marc at fitassociates.com

-----Original Message-----
From:
discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.
com] On Behalf Of Mauro Cavalletti
Sent: Friday, July 29, 2005 5:42 PM
To: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: [ID Discuss] Ethnographic research methods

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]

Hi,

I am looking for structured methods of ethnographic field research (video or

not), or other types of research methodologies to get insights on users
behavior in context.

Does anyone have experiences that could be shared? I would like to know pros

and cons if possible.

Thank you all.

Mauro Cavalletti
Creative Director
Organic, Inc.
New York
212.827.2212
www.organic.com

1 Aug 2005 - 9:44am
Josh Seiden
2003

Hi Mauro,

Take a look at Karen Holtzblatt's books. (Contextual Design, etc.) Her
Contextual Inquiry process is a highly stuctured investigation technique
that uses ethographic methods.

I find her investigation techniques very solid, but find the
post-research analysis and modelling techniques less than satisfying.
They are very good for building concensus on large teams, especially if
the teams include non-desingers. They are less good for small teams, and
for people who are comfortable with less deterministic processes.

JS

-----Original Message-----
Hi,

I am looking for structured methods of ethnographic field research
(video or
not), or other types of research methodologies to get insights on users
behavior in context.

31 Jul 2005 - 4:30pm
Mukherjee, Sayantani
2005

Hi

You might want to take a look at the following article:

Arnould, Eric J. and Melanie Wallendorf (1994) "Market-Oriented Ethnography: Interpretation Building and Marketing Strategy Formulation", Journal of Marketing Research, Vol 31 (November).

The article gives a nice overview of various ethnographic methods (observation, interviews etc) as well as the pros and cons of different methods. However it does not include recent methods like digital ethnography.

If you cannot access the article, let me know, I'll attach it in a separate message.

-Sayantani Mukherjee
PhD Student-Marketing
The Paul Merage School of Business
University of California-Irvine

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com on behalf of Mauro Cavalletti
Sent: Fri 7/29/2005 2:42 PM
To: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: [ID Discuss] Ethnographic research methods

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]

Hi,

I am looking for structured methods of ethnographic field research (video or
not), or other types of research methodologies to get insights on users
behavior in context.

Does anyone have experiences that could be shared? I would like to know pros
and cons if possible.

Thank you all.

Mauro Cavalletti
Creative Director
Organic, Inc.
New York
212.827.2212
www.organic.com

_________________________________________________________________
Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger! Download today - it's FREE!
http://messenger.msn.click-url.com/go/onm00200471ave/direct/01/

_______________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
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1 Aug 2005 - 10:43am
Robert Reimann
2003

Here's another couple of books that I've found useful:

Field Methods Casebook for Software Design, ed. by Dennis Wixon and
Judith Ramey
John Wiley and Sons, 1996.

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research,
by Mike Kuniavsky
Morgan Kaufmann, 2003.

Robert.

---

Robert Reimann
Manager, User Interface Design and Research

Bose Corporation
The Mountain
Framingham, MA 01701

-----Original Message-----
From:
discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesign
ers.com] On Behalf Of Joshua Seiden
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 10:44 AM
To: 'Mauro Cavalletti';
discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: RE: [ID Discuss] Ethnographic research methods

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]

Hi Mauro,

Take a look at Karen Holtzblatt's books. (Contextual Design, etc.) Her
Contextual Inquiry process is a highly stuctured investigation technique
that uses ethographic methods.

I find her investigation techniques very solid, but find the
post-research analysis and modelling techniques less than satisfying.
They are very good for building concensus on large teams, especially if
the teams include non-desingers. They are less good for small teams, and
for people who are comfortable with less deterministic processes.

JS

-----Original Message-----
Hi,

I am looking for structured methods of ethnographic field research
(video or
not), or other types of research methodologies to get insights on users
behavior in context.

1 Aug 2005 - 11:06am
Lada Gorlenko
2004

An insightful book and a simply captivating read on the subject is

"Why we buy"
by Paco Underhill
Texere, 2002

Paco is an urban anthropologist who has designed user experiences in
retail settings for the past 25 years. If you are looking for help to
sell field research to stakeholders in the way Cooper's "Inmates"
sells IxD to business, have it and give it away, too.

Since we are on the subject, Europeans and particularly UK-based
folks may want to check out the workshop in October:
In-Use, In-Situ: Extending Field Research Methods
http://www.cs.mdx.ac.uk/research/idc/in_use.html
27-28 October 2005, London

Lada

1 Aug 2005 - 5:13pm
Peter Merholz
2004

I consider WHY WE BUY to be a boondoggle. It really was more, "How We
Buy." There was NOTHING about motivation in it.

A review of mine from July 2000:

==
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill. A breezy
treatise on what people do in stores, from an anthropologist whose
devoted his life to studying commerce. This work proved to simply be
a number of facile observations of how retail environments should be
set up, filled with interesting statistical trivia and revealing
stories, but not adding up to any real understanding of the consumer
mindset. Most shockingly, Underhill doesn't even bother to address
that which ethnography can best uncover in this whole process--a
person's motivation to shop. Underhill's work begins from the moment
someone walks into the store, seemingly ignoring that person's life
outside. The subject of another book perhaps, but, in my mind a
subject far more interesting and thought-provoking than a catalog of
admonitions for silly shopkeepers. Underhill does anthropologists,
and his readers, a disservice with his aggressively popular approach.
==

--peter
On Aug 1, 2005, at 9:06 AM, Lada Gorlenko wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> An insightful book and a simply captivating read on the subject is
>
> "Why we buy"
> by Paco Underhill
> Texere, 2002
>
> Paco is an urban anthropologist who has designed user experiences in
> retail settings for the past 25 years. If you are looking for help to
> sell field research to stakeholders in the way Cooper's "Inmates"
> sells IxD to business, have it and give it away, too.
>
> Since we are on the subject, Europeans and particularly UK-based
> folks may want to check out the workshop in October:
> In-Use, In-Situ: Extending Field Research Methods
> http://www.cs.mdx.ac.uk/research/idc/in_use.html
> 27-28 October 2005, London
>
> Lada
>
> _______________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixdg.org
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://discuss.ixdg.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixdg.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixdg.org
> Home ....................... http://ixdg.org/
>
>
>
>
>

2 Aug 2005 - 1:34am
Mikko-Pekka Hanski
2005

Hi,

Very question indeed to look for ethnographic methods. The question of
different methods, pros and cons are like that everyone should quite much
figure out themselves also. I think that Marc Rettig's list is very good
starting point.

In general we have been thinking three aspects in every ethnographic method
and project: a) What is the role of the researchers b) How different
cultures affects to the research and c) how effectively information can be
gathered.

As the researcher is always making assumptions, interpretations of the
user's behaviour and context, it is crucial to researcher to reflect one's
preassumptions, experiences during the sessions and thinking models. All
this adds the reliability of the results and actually makes gathered
information more lively. You could say that doing ethnographic research you
are at the same time researching your self.

We have been conducting global user research projects, where ethnogrpahic
methods were used in US, APAC and different countries in Europe. We very
quickly realised that implementing same method in every detail to all the
markets is practically impossible. Behaviour patterns, contexts, cultures,
interaction models obviously differs from country to country. By identifying
the issue we could adjust the methods a bit to fit the different countries.
But I would like to hear some of the comments from the list how to cope
different cultures.

The third issue is time and money. Our projects mainly concerns mobile user
experience and the development cycle in those projects tends to be quite
fast. Still ethnographic methods are practically only decent methods to
clarify patterns and contexts of mobile use. How to combine project
deadlines and methods that usually takes a lot of time to conduct. Then
again we had to make some adjustments to the methods.

My point here is that the with every ethnographic method you end up choosing
you should identify researchers own assumption and interpretations of the
subject, figure out how that particular method fit to the culture and how
the information can be gathered in cost effective manner.

Regards,

Mikko-Pekka

shopkeepers. Underhill does anthropologists, and his readers, a disservice
with his aggressively popular approach.
==

--peter
On Aug 1, 2005, at 9:06 AM, Lada Gorlenko wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> An insightful book and a simply captivating read on the subject is
>
> "Why we buy"
> by Paco Underhill
> Texere, 2002
>
> Paco is an urban anthropologist who has designed user experiences in
> retail settings for the past 25 years. If you are looking for help to

_______________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixdg.org (Un)Subscription Options ...
http://discuss.ixdg.org/ Announcements List .........
http://subscribe-announce.ixdg.org/
Questions .................. lists at ixdg.org Home .......................
http://ixdg.org/

2 Aug 2005 - 8:30am
Lada Gorlenko
2004

PM> I consider WHY WE BUY to be a boondoggle. It really was more, "How We
PM> Buy." There was NOTHING about motivation in it.

PM> This work proved to simply be a number of facile observations of
PM> how retail environments should be set up, filled with interesting
PM> statistical trivia and revealing stories, but not adding up to any
PM> real understanding of the consumer mindset.

Gee, that sounds pretty aggressive even to my spiky taste :-)

Peter, your review just proves to me that Underhill's book is a
good book. People love or hate it, but rarely shrug and say "Dunno".

I've been doing all sorts of field, action, ethnographic, contextual,
ground [you name it] research for nearly 15 years. Came to the UX
world from social psychology, did lots of hard-core field work,
read dozens of books on research methods... you got the picture. So
yes, when I became a UX practitioner, I had a lot of crap in my head
and a huge tendency to pursue "real understanding of the user's
mindset" in anything I did. It wasn't just impractical, it was often
unwise. With pretty good analytical skills, one can come up with any
theory of "true motivation", and it'll be a plausible one.

Paco's book completed my transformation from a scientist to a
practitioner. It taught me to see objectively, see with my eyes, not
just my brain, and focus attention rather than spread it when it
needed focusing. In short, it taught me to cut the crap.

"Why we buy" is about data collection, about observing customers
inside the target environment [the supermarket walls], not outside
it. And that's exactly what it claims. Of course, user's life outside
the environment under investigation influences their behaviour, and so
does the Phallic Stage of child's development at the tender age of
three, according to good old Uncle Sigmund [I am very serious, btw,
he's got some brill insights for our folk as well].

One has to have a brain and open mind to do field research, but field
work always starts with painful simplicity of open eyes; they are the
essence of the method. Thanks, Paco.

Lada

3 Aug 2005 - 10:43am
Marc Rettig
2004

Thank you, Mikko-Pekka. You make excellent points.

It is very true that all research is subjective, and this can be quite a
challenge when working across cultures. I find the books and materials by
and for ethnographers to be much stronger on this point than the
still-very-thin literature we have on qualitative research for product
design and strategy.

I have been on the outskirts of projects by U.S. companies that were
conducting field work in India and/or China. They had taken steps to find
local people to use as researchers (say, for example, someone who teaches
anthropology in a national university). Which I thought was helpful if less
than ideal. But the really difficult conversation was this: no matter your
achievements in obtaining good data, how will the team *interpret* this data
and decide what it means for their products and business plans? American
middle-class white guys just can't see through local lenses unless they've
been steeped in the local world.

The answer at the time was to keep local people on the project throughout
the work of analyzing and synthesizing the data, and to keep them available
to the team as they applied the insights to product design. And, of course,
to plan for lots of iteration. As it is, we're always wrong the first time.
Working across cultures we're going to be even wronger <smile>.

To your "time and money" point. This is of course true to a lesser extent
even when working in our home culture. Our approach so far has been to do
the very best work we can within the constraints of *this* project, so we
are likely to be sponsored to go out to the same context again. In at least
one case this has won us the opportunity to propose quarterly or bi-monthly
field visits. Learn a little bit now, make use of it, learn a little more
next time, keep at it, and over the course of a year you have not only gone
deep, but you have had the chance to watch *change*. A line that has been
well-received by clients: "You will have more understanding than your
competitors about how their products are actually used; you will see
opportunities before they do."

I hope our paths cross one day. I would love to talk more about
cross-cultural research projects.

- Marc

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Marc Rettig
Fit Associates
412-215-0026 cell
marc at fitassociates.com

3 Aug 2005 - 1:01pm
Adi Tedjasaputra
2004

Marc Rettig wrote:

>I have been on the outskirts of projects by U.S. companies that were
>conducting field work in India and/or China. They had taken steps to find
>local people to use as researchers (say, for example, someone who teaches
>anthropology in a national university). Which I thought was helpful if less
>than ideal.
>
Your description of "find local people and to use them" reminds me of
neocolonialism,
but I hope it's only a cross-cultural misinterpretation :-)
From what I have learnt from history, ethnography has often been used
in the past by colonial authorities to study what they label "local",
"native" or "indigenous" people, so they could understand how to "tame"
the local people and continuously mantain status quo in their colonies.
Whether it is neocolonialism or not, I think engaging what you probably
call "local people" throughout a project would be ideal.
This is often true in the terms of time and money with an assumption
among some others that less time would be needed by locals and less
money would be spent.
Misinterpretations and misunderstandings would likely occur in any
cross-cultural projects. They are almost unavoidable.
The main challenge often lies in defining a strategy to minimise the
"frictions", establish a common ground
and focus the effort to achive the project goal.

adi

4 Aug 2005 - 10:12am
Marc Rettig
2004

Hi Adi,

>Your description of "find local people and to use them" reminds me of
>neocolonialism, but I hope it's only a cross-cultural misinterpretation :-)

Good heavens. I'll be more careful of my phrasing next time. While
attempting to shortcut long constructions such as "collaborate with people
who grew up in the culture and context for which they were trying to
design," I chose words that are obviously associated with the bad old days.

- Marc

4 Aug 2005 - 10:23am
Dave Malouf
2005

While in this day and age, it might seem "too easy" to get people of an
indigenous (whatever that means these days) voice to do the reporting and
analysis, I do think that anthropology affords us something different.
Balancing the insider/outsider viewpoints is something that anthropology
teaches is a vital component of good ethnography.

I think it would be a mistake to lean in the direction that only people
of/from country X can design products that suit them. In fact what we know
from UCD, is that the outsider voice/view and being empathetic of the
insider view (but NOT being the insider) is what makes UCD work.

The new era though should have people in India doing design for US products.
That's excellent. They need to do their homework for sure, but by having to
focus against 2 lenses, means they will come up with a more accurate view in
the end.

As to the fear of colonialism. Anthropology of any variety where you have
observers trying to take their observations to make design or policy
decisions is always going to have an aspect of seeming oppression. The best
we can hope to do is monitor and evaluate. X-cultural peer review is pretty
key here.

This is one reason why I'm so excited about the international nature of this
list. If only there were better tools to make it even more so, it would be
awesome!

(On the fly translations? How far away are we from this?)

On 8/4/05 11:12 AM, "Marc Rettig" <mrettig at well.com> wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Hi Adi,
>
>> Your description of "find local people and to use them" reminds me of
>> neocolonialism, but I hope it's only a cross-cultural misinterpretation :-)
>
> Good heavens. I'll be more careful of my phrasing next time. While
> attempting to shortcut long constructions such as "collaborate with people
> who grew up in the culture and context for which they were trying to
> design," I chose words that are obviously associated with the bad old days.
>
> - Marc

-- dave

David Heller
http://synapticburn.com/
http://ixdg.org/
Dave (at) ixdg (dot) org
Dave (at) synapticburn (dot) com
AIM: bolinhanyc || Y!: dave_ux || MSN: hippiefunk at hotmail.com

4 Aug 2005 - 7:40pm
Nick Ragouzis
2004

I would be interested in hearing from this community about
an aspect of doing this work that Mikko-Pekka and Marc touch on.

IF the context is *this* project (or any cluster of
identified targeted-result projects, i.e., not general
profiling), therefore time and money are a crucial constraint
(or more properly, in my view, time and money must be scaled
to timing and types of returns), AND if we admit that a
critical element is the *interpret[ation]* wherein we might
be wise to retain/re-engage relevant talent, or take other
actions extending broader team engagement, AND if there are
fundamental differences that places limits on uniform
approaches across cultures ...

... THEN I would think that one way to attack, in combination,
the challenges in project deadlines and methods is to (a) do
more upfront work, and (b) do more integrative/synthesis work
more often.

So, how prevalent in this community are these five (or other)
methods, activities, or practices:

1. A fully engaged, wide-ranging ideation/formative stage,
involving all expected contributing parties before project
results are targeted.

2. The extent to which media and literature research is done
and challenged, interpreted, and prepared and integrated.

3. The prevalence of project-specific scenarios (more abstract
and wide ranging, less concrete than use cases or this
communities' use of personas, e.g.), created to make
explicit and explicate assumptions for each stage, and that
are updated at each stage.

4. The use of profiles for setting risk exposures, establishing
levels of acceptable (un)certainty in results, and the
latitude of potential action from expected information.

5. Explicitly setting an expected value on the timing and
degree of such information.

I underscore Marc's appeal for tending to change, to dynamics,
by noting that the most insidious fault is premature and rigid
consolidation of project aim and ultimate manifestations --
that is, not organizing for project-internal change.

(Just to keep down the noise, or raise the threshold for making
such a claim: prototype-level design iteration is a good thing,
but it is in a different, less powerful and less problematic,
class of organizing for change. One mental test to apply: the
levels of, and extent of, team alignment that's "in scope" for
such prototype iteration.)

--Nick

6 Aug 2005 - 5:26pm
Lada Gorlenko
2004

NR> I would be interested in hearing from this community about
NR> an aspect of doing this work that Mikko-Pekka and Marc touch on.

Here is my take on it, based on work I've done in cross-cultural user
research and knowledge transfer.

There are three basic strategies for doing cross-cultural design
(incl. user research and evaluation): centralised, decentralised,
and cooperative. Each has advantages and limitations and works
best in specific settings.

To understand the definitions better, imagine the scenario: you are a
US-based design firm and your user base is in the US, UK, and Japan.

1. CENTRALISED approach is a single-leader approach. A project is
carried out or fully controlled by a practitioner (or a team) from one
country (in our case, the US). Local teams (in the UK and Japan) may
not exist at all or - when they do - have no decision-making
responsibilities. Often, user activities involving local users are
carried out in one language (e.g., English), regardless of the native
language of the participants. Sometimes, research materials are
translated, but not culturally adopted. The approach assumes that
research techniques are universal and require little adaptation in
different cultures.

When to use: centralised strategy works for countries with common
language and similar cultural profiles.

For example, it may work [pay attention to 'may' :-)] for the US
and the UK, but not for the US and Japan.

2. DECENTRALISED approach is a multi-leader approach. All or most
research activities are outsourced to local countries (UK and Japan),
and local teams have full decision-making responsibilities. Data are
collected in local languages, and cultural considerations are applied
in each country. Decentralised approach assumes no lateral connections
between local countries (e.g., no connections between UK and Japanese
teams); each team communicates directly with the centre (which can be
the design team or the client himself).

When to use: decentralised strategy is best suited for projects
targeting local markets and seeking no or little association between
different geographical segments.

For example, a product we design for the UK market is essentially
different from the one we design for the Japanese market (which is
often the case for mobile products).

3. COOPERATIVE strategy is a [make and educated guess] bridge between
centralised and decentralised approaches. Similar to centralised, it
has a coherent study methodology and a strong core team (e.g., the US
team). Similar to decentralised, it largely relies on local expertise
and local languages. In its essence, its a team-lead approach where
local teams have connections not only with the centre, but may connect
to each other bypassing the leader. Local teams (UK, Japan) influence
the choice of techniques, data analysis and reporting. Local teams do
not only conduct all research in local language, but can *adapt* study
materials to local conditions, when necessary. There are plenty of
issues on how much decision-making power is sensible to give to local
teams (we still want some integrity among the datasets from different
countries), but it's a different story of you being a skilled
cross-cultural project manager.

When to use: cooperative strategy works best when a project seeks
for both commonalities and distinctive features of the cultures
involved.

In our scenario, cooperative strategy will be a winner if we are
designing a single product for the three countries and are trying to
minimise the amount adaptations needed for each country.

This is just a general outline, but I am happy to discuss practical
considerations of choosing each strategy and tips on setting up and
managing cooperative projects, if anyone is interested. Alternatively,
pop up for my tutorial on cross-cultural user research :-)

Lada

7 Aug 2005 - 2:14am
Nick Ragouzis
2004

>
> NR> I would be interested in hearing from this community
> NR> about an aspect of doing this work that Mikko-Pekka
> and Marc touch on.
>
> Here is my take on it, based on work I've done in cross-
> cultural user research and knowledge transfer.
>
> There are three basic strategies for doing cross-cultural
> design (incl. user research and evaluation): centralised,
> decentralised, and cooperative. Each has advantages and
> limitations and works best in specific settings.
>
> To understand the definitions better, imagine the scenario:
> you are a US-based design firm and your user base is in the
> US, UK, and Japan.
>

Thanks Lada for that perspective.

Apparently the object of my question was too subtle. That
object was not to learn more ways to slice and dice the
'challenges in project-focused ethnographic methods' but
rather to suggest, perhaps, that an equal or more important
challenge lies in the paucity of systematic upfront work,
and in the low variety in and thinness of systematic
synthesis throughout.

The five ways these two areas could be attacked in the
context of project deadlines and project methods were just
some I know of. I'd hoped to learn that folks use these,
or others, more often than I'd seen, and to what effect.

They don't, however, seem to be used very often in the ID
practice. More often, I see ID/UXD ethnographic folks trying
to see deeper into the darkness than working smarter with
what they already (can) know. More often touting their
patent medicines than helping designers box the
uncertainties.

Although this thread has had some interesting contributions,
here's one that has not yet appeared:

Wait;
While waiting, see what you can do with what you've got

How could that be so? If it is not readily apparent then I
suggest a browse of the July2005 Comm of ACM. The Mobile
Device section is a catalog of research that should never
have been repeated for product design projects at the time
it was done. One article of that sub-section is particularly
ironically stuffed with references to work that already had
the information necessary for the project. (To understand how
I assess necessity, see the items 4 and 5, maybe 3, of my list.)

Being better at doing-while-waiting won't make a died-in-the-
wool field ethnographer happy. But it will improve just about
every aspect of the work, from focus of and results from
field work, to the business cases for that work.

Business and project managers (and CACM editors, too) should
have a higher bar for this work. And should invest more
soundly, and more comprehensively in it, and more constantly
over time.

But they won't under the circumstances we've created, where
ethnography blithely replicates other work (Wow, isn't it
interesting about SMS?!) and the pseudo-scientific capture
of tedium (the more tedious the better) is considered
high art. They won't until the work can be focus on that
which has been identified as a likely strategic
differentiator in the targeted product(s).

I think results in those two areas (upfront; synthesis) would
help immensely. Although business managers love the anecdotes
from field research, they are not far wrong that most proposals
they hear are from folks confused about their mission, or folks
that just like being in the field.

Under these conditions it should not be surprising that such
projects are denied (but no substitute work of the type I've
asked about had been done either ... so the project moves
forward blind), or unexpectedly curtailed (esp. later phases
of longitudinal work), or whole ethnographic teams re-deployed.

Further, it is irrelevant to point out, later, that a failed
project hadn't executed the ethnographic plan -- this helps
neither business managers nor design teams hoping to use
ethnographic means. It's more relevant to point out weaknesses
in up-front work, and in integrative/synthesis, even when
ethnographic methods are included. For these two attacks are
both fortification for improved ethno proposals and business
cases, and are mitigations against the (as we hear) unavoidable
weaknesses and confusions that abound in ethnographic work.

Also: since results from ethnographic research (like
usability as discussed before) tends, ultimately, to be limited
or dictated by the data gathering methods and the related
reporting ... they are remarkably unsuitable for detecting
and supporting within-experiment change. The two areas I've
pointed to seem to me to be a powerful and available
'instrument' for anticipating, detecting and incorporating
information about change (one of Marc's observations for
important areas of attention in ethnography), and for dealing
with project change.

Lastly: There would be a great benefit in ethnographers
getting better at and more widely using those 1-5 methods/
practices. Namely, benefits in being better at describing the
risks of the specifics that are unknown, and attributing
values to knowing, and in understanding when enough risk has
been mitigated and the work should be stopped. This last point
reminds us of another aspect: ethnography related to project
work is not social science ... it isn't even applied science;
it is design work.

--Nick

8 Aug 2005 - 4:10pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Where did I miss the 5 methods?

On Aug 7, 2005, at 3:14 AM, Nick Ragouzis wrote:

> Lastly: There would be a great benefit in ethnographers
> getting better at and more widely using those 1-5 methods/
> practices.

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
Partner, Design & Usability Specialist
Messagefirst | making products & services easier to use
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