the designer as researchers

20 Jul 2010 - 10:00am
6 years ago
2 replies
772 reads

Hi all...


As more and more designers wander out into the audience to gather facts and insight... I am wondering how much background in anthropology and ethnography you (the designer as researcher) are taking with you? How important is it to you, your process, and the net result as applied to the design work, that you follow established qualitative research protocal.


I am not at all interested (for the purposed of this thread) in the ethical issues of disclosure, etc... more interested in your interactions, dialog and information gathering process.






21 Jul 2010 - 10:43am
Georgette Sulllivan


Great topic! I to am interested in knowing how much experience and background as designer should have in ethnography/anthropology. I am just about done with my masters (all but thesis) and I am trying to determine if I should stay an extra semeter to take a couple ethnography courses or just graduate this December.

have a great day!


26 Jul 2010 - 9:50am
Paul Bryan

If you design information systems in which usage is optional, and lack of adoption is costly, e.g. e-commerce, then I think design research and ethnography are very relevant to the design process (contrary to recent Normanisms).

Ethnography gives designers tools for discovering the underlying behavioral scaffolding in a real life context for which you are designing a solution. Many of the habits that UX designs address with technology, e.g. mobile shopping apps, involve behaviors that have been culturally conditioned. Ethnography is a structured research approach for understanding the behaviors, motivations, and rituals of a group of people, through their eyes, their limitations, frustrations, successes.

My team has used ethnographic methods for understanding how large groups of consumers in the USA and Europe evaluate and purchase cellphones, manage their finances, purchase apparel, mail packages, use information technology in mobile work situations, purchase home improvement products, use corporate portals... etc. Ethnographic methods gave us a deep understanding of behavior that helped us concept out innovative solutions based on data rather than conjecture.

If you would like more info about the connection between ethnography and interaction design, take a look at my blog, Virtual Floorspace ( I also presented a paper on Ethnography 101 at the 2010 UPA meeting in Munich. I would be happy to send you a pdf of the prez if you are interested.

Paul Bryan

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