Ethnography Makes Products
That my team — a design team — does research, has at times confused colleagues unfamiliar with design methods. Some expect that customer research is produced solely from the market research team and that any design findings only come out of the usability lab. So, to set the scene on our latest field study I presented an introduction about how ethnography has played a part in the product design and innovation of many brands we are familiar with.
I share this introduction with you here for your interest and, should you find it useful, for you to re-use with a couple of conditions — see the end for what they are. But in the meantime, enjoy.
Ethnography Makes Products
We’re a product design team…so why are we doing research? Design starts with research. It’s how we define the customer brief. In this project we used ethnography…diary studies with customers, visiting their homes, interviewing them to understand their behaviour…what they do…because ethnography makes products.
- At Google designers use all sorts of data but they also talk to users and watch them use YouTube in their home to see if people use their products the way they expect them to. (1)
- IKEA routinely visit people in their homes to understand what they need, particularly in small living spaces. The results are every imaginable shelf but also beautiful rechargeable batteries that can be disguised as books, or wireless charging furniture (2) (3).
- The idea behind Fisher & Paykel’s Dish Drawer (4) came not by looking at dishwashers but by examining the way people used their kitchen. The design team took inspiration from an unrelated kitchen function – the drawer – and created a hybrid between the two.
This process is not about finding answers in quantitative data.
- The Whirlpool duet was designed by watching people in their homes walk through their laundry process (5). One observation, one data point — seeing someone raise their front-load washing machine with a palette, led to the invention of the pedestal and introduced accessories to the washing machine category.
- And at Telstra…a combination of strategy, design thinking and lean startup led to Online Essentials. The original question concerned domain and web hosting. We visited customers at their businesses to understand their DIY approach to web site publishing and marketing and conceived an experience to solve their problems.
For years in concept and usability testing sessions customers have been giving us hints about their concerns around … (here is where I shared the customer anecdotes and proof points that helped us form a hypothesis to make the case for conducting the research in the first place.)
We’re at the beginning of a design process. What will you get out of today…
- An understanding of what customers are experiencing
- How this might translate as new experiences we deliver to our customers
I’ll now hand over to the team now so we can hear what they learned.
- 5 questions for YouTube’s lead UX researcher https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-aunz/advertising-channels/video/youtube-user-behavior-research/
“To answer those questions, I’m constantly doing both qualitative and quantitative research—everything from talking to users and watching them use YouTube in their homes, to carrying out lab studies to see if people use our products the way we expect them to.”
- How Ikea took over the World: http://fortune.com/ikea-world-domination/
“The company frequently does home visits and—in a practice that blends research with reality TV—will even send an anthropologist to live in a volunteer’s abode. Ikea recently put up cameras in people’s homes in Stockholm, Milan, New York, and Shenzhen, China, to better understand how people use their sofas. What did they learn? “They do all kinds of things except sitting and watching TV,” Ydholm says. The Ikea sleuths found that in Shenzhen, most of the subjects sat on the floor using the sofas as a backrest. “I can tell you seriously we for sure have not designed our sofas according to people sitting on the floor and using a sofa like that,” says Ydholm.”
- Ikea presents: Life at Home Report 2017 https://lifeathome.ikea.com/home/en/
- Fisher and Paykel: Designing difference: https://www.betterbydesign.org.nz/about/news/news-and-features/fisher-and-paykel
- A Case for Good Design. Part One: Whirlpool’s Duet Series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghCGffPSRyo
Conditions of Use
Works on this site are published under a creative commons attribution and share alike license. So if you do use this refrain from publishing under your name, and please let me know if you do use it by posting a comment here. Also, if you use alternate examples in an adapted work, let me know what they are. Heck! If you have any favourite examples of ethnographic research contributing to UX, product, or service design, let me know in the comments.