Design Product design Research

Ethnography Makes Products

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.

Ethnographic research informed the design of Ikea rechargeable lamps, The Fisher & Paykel Dish Drawer, and the Whirlpool Duet.

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.


  1. 5 questions for YouTube’s lead UX researcher
    “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.”
  2. How Ikea took over the World:
    “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.”
  3. Ikea presents: Life at Home Report 2017
  4. Fisher and Paykel: Designing difference:
  5. A Case for Good Design. Part One: Whirlpool’s Duet Series:

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.

Events Product design Research

Jobs to be Done Sydney #4 Interview workshop

Monday 23rd March was the fourth installment of the Sydney chapter of the Jobs to be Done meetup, and the first co-organised by me. That’s right, after so many years of attending meetups I’ve finally stepped up to help Christian keep the ball rolling. As always we were wonderfully and generously hosted by Brainmates who also host and sponsor Product Mavens and Product Talks Sydney. I’ll be getting along to one of those very soon.

Always putting on a great spread for us.
Always putting on a great spread for us.

JTBD 4 was all about customer interview practice and the particular techniques used in Jobs-to-Done. Like other qualitative interviews it probes for detail but a Jobs-to-Done interview also

  • hones in on a participant’s ‘hotspots’
  • asks seemingly irrelevant questions, such as what the weather was like that day to not only trigger memories but to stop the interviewee post-rationalising their decisions
  • tries to identify each trigger where the participant progressed through a stage of the buying, switching, or leaving journey.

Which customers to recruit to understand the buying journey.
Which customers to recruit to understand the buying journey.

JTBD interview facilitation tips
JTBD interview facilitation tips

We watched a video of Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek demonstrating the interview technique at Business of Software 2013. Then everyone got a chance to practice interviewing themselves in groups. It was pretty funny and sweet hearing everyone’s stories. Especially from the business owners. Inspiring stuff.

The most fun was the discussion afterwards. We all shared our own experiences and opinions on interviewing etiquette: the art of asking open questions, whether it is OK to ask closed questions, and the trick of leaving a question hanging for the participant to fill the void.

Getting ready for group work and interview practice.
Getting ready for group work and interview practice.

Thanks to all who attended. A guest speaker will be announced very soon for the next event so sign up on Meetup if you haven’t already. See you there!



Product design

Stan app dead end for curious new customers

I’m looking forward to seeing what Stan, Presto, and of course Netflix have to offer avid Australian movie and TV watchers like myself. I’m a ripe candidate for all of these new services: I don’t subscribe to Foxtel (can’t get cable at home), I haven’t bothered to bypass geo-location blocks to access US Netflix, I don’t want to download illegally, I don’t have an Apple TV (love hate relationship with Apple, hate relationship with iTunes), and I’m ready to see what else there is besides Quickflix for more than a few reasons.

Rather enthusiastically I downloaded the Stan app today on my iPad and was quickly disappointed. The first screen gave me nowhere to go: No information about the product, no hint of the launch date, no way to sign up, and no way to take any further steps. Even worse, it assumed I was already a customer.

The Stan iPad app. You can log in but if you’re a new customer you can’t sign up.

The website gives a few more options. You can read a bit about the service and more importantly sign up and register to an offer. Why isn’t this experience available on the app?

I can only assume its because its early days for Stan. To any Stan designers, developers and product managers reading this I don’t want to come across as a pedant, but am suggesting another form on the app page would be more appropriate. I am looking forward to seeing what’s in store. Good luck with the launch.

The Stan website has more information as you would expect and a more appropriate form for new customers and a new product.



Events Product design Research

Deconstructing a Jobs to be Done switch interview

It’s fascinating to hear about the decision making process of customers when they decide to buy a product. Its more interesting still to think about the reasons they may be leaving another product for this to happen. What may on the surface seem perfectly rationale ends up being haphazard, circumstantial, and even highly emotional.

Design research methods promise to uncover this human story and outlay the behaviour, needs and goals of customers and/or users of a application. What the Jobs to be Done approach adds is a focus on identifying valuable features from the customer’s perspective and contextualizing them against the forces of habit and anxiety that may cause the inertia behind not switching to a new product. Its a compelling model, so I am so pleased that my former colleague and friend Christian LaFrance has started a Sydney Jobs to be Done meetup.

It was a great turn out for the third event this week hosted by Brain Mates in the centre of the city. Thank you Adrienne for the perfect setting, and for the wine and food.

Christian played back the switch interview from the second meetup. He led the interviewee to unwind his experience from the point of purchase right to the beginning explaining small and broad details of his story. As we listened we modeled notes along a journey framework and analysed them in groups with the Jobs to be Done four forces model.

I won’t go into the detail of the approach here. There are much better resources online for that (check out JTBD online, JTBD radio, and Christian’s Flipboard collection as a start). I did pick up some tips though from meetups 2 &3

  • Its important to get granular. Asking after irrelevant details is a useful technique to help people remember and visualise events.
  • Christian recommended asking questions to validate assumptions as soon as you catch yourself inferring too much.
  • The value of the model is explicitly seeing and thinking about the weight of the combined factors within the Push and Pull quadrants that have to overcome the customer’s habit and anxiety for a switch i.e. a purchase to happen.

The audio of the switch interview which is about a customer buying a mobile phone is available on the meetup page of the group. Join up while you’re there. This is a practical group so I promise you will learn something while you’re there. Thanks again Christian for a wonderful event.

Events Product design Research

Jobs to be Done Sydney meet-up review

I’ve been meaning for the longest time to do some reading on Jobs to be Done framework, but like so many little jobs it had remain undone. Until Monday night that is when Christian Lafrance organised the first Sydney meet up at the Trinity Bar in Surry Hills. Christian has presented on Jobs to be Done at UX New Zealand  with ABC colleagues Justin Sinclair and Raymond van der Zalm and he has been incorporating the method into UX and product strategy and design projects at the ABC.

What I learnt.

  • It’s deceptively simple
  • A product management methodology, popular to those who practice Lean startup, now getting traction in UX circles
  • Helps business stakeholders relate to designers
  • Applied in user research phases of projects
  • Uncovers functional objectives of products
  • Helps designs and product teams define and prioritise product features
  • Helps to encourage stakeholders away from their focus on features (solution mode) towards goals and context.

We touched on …

  • recruiting switchers to gain rich insights at the moment where a choice is made
  • analysis frameworks (4 forces of progress)
  • prioritisation frameworks
  • defining the customer value proposition

And next time we will talk about

  • provocative interview techniques for switchers

Biggest takeaway that will make me look into Jobs to be Done some more … once this method is used to frame the use of products stakeholders look for the goal, the job and it becomes a powerful driver of customer centricity. They stop talking about features, and start talking about what customers want to achieve.

It was great to meet everyone who turned up on the night. And a big thank you to Christian for organising this and making the commitment to do it again. I worked with Christian for two years and I miss the interrogation to HCD methodology that he brings to the table. So although we still get to see each other on the odd occasion it was great to geek out together and see him in action. Thank you Christian!

If you want to learn more about what we covered check out



Design Product design

Facebook chat bubble – here, there and with extra instructions

As a follow up to an earlier post I am happy to report that the Facebook chat bubble copy has changed. For all the details and screenshots I have updated the original post.