The event was quite enlightening, mainly because I never got a proper exposure of ethnographic field research before. Of course I know some theory – for example Alan Cooper dedicates to ethnographic contextual research loads of space in his brilliant About Face and considers it to be one of the crucial cornerstones of the user-centred design process.
Despite that, it is sometimes hard to realise the implications and the range of qualitative data designer or researcher might get out of a such study. One of the speakers, Simon Johnson, went briefly through the field research project for Sky Broadband, that was focused on how users set up their modems. He collected and analysed incredibly huge amount of data from interviews and observations and his insights were used to redesign the product. This eventually resulted in reduction of over 1 million calls per year, which translated into a saving of £4.5 million. And that sounds like a win!
A question how the customer experiences as affected was raised by another event attendee. Ethnography can’t answer this though, and ultimately it is rather a question for UX designers and analysts. But the numbers can’t be too wrong, hopefully.
Simon’s talk was quite inspiring (as were the talks of other two speakers, Simon Roberts and Jaimes Nel) and reminding about the fact that there isn’t any “typicsl user” out there.
Of course the use of ethnographic contextual research depends on a type of a project and budget, but it’s quite simple to see the practical advantages in designing mobile apps, CRM and ERP systems, smart devices and ubiquitous systems, or simply websites.
Few other notes from the talks
- anthropology seems to be rediscovered by business and design industry every couple of years, if not months, although it’s around for over 40 years (That actually reminds me of an article about the importance of branding in last years issue of User Experience magazine. What a discovery!)
- when analysing the research results, it’s always helpful to take a step back from the details and take a more the holistic view of the problem
- ethnography will help you to identify and understand business and strategic opportunities and what people actually do in context of environment and their culture / background / lives…
- don’t take ethnography only as a method, but as a perspective to a project; it’s a way of thinking
- when you do the research, focusing not just on people and their interactions but also on their environment on several levels (I’ll borrow explanation from ergonomics and will use example from the Hexagon-spindle model for this – think of environment on the workstation – workspace – company and society levels. Actually, thinking about this more, the Hexagon-spindle model could be used equally well for the ethnographic research as for ergonomical evaluation)
- learn how to use statistics and analyse the data with it; you can use both qualitative and quantitative data
- engineers are good problem solvers, but they don’t always solve the right problems (heh, we designers know this quite well)
9 basic steps to a better research (by Simon Johnson)
- get hypotheses; we don’t know everything, otherwise we wouldn’t do research
- be open to everything; at last in terms of the research
- get stuck in it; get involved, go out there and get hands dirty
- dress down (if it is appropriate with the target population); be one of them
- blend in; blend in with the environment
- don’t mention designers; the you’re going to observe might think that you wnt to hear certain answers
- watch the language
- off the record; capture the off the record comments, sometimes people say more valuable stuff when you are “not” recording
- downplay the tech; don’t come equipped with tons of gadgets
I had high expectations about the event and I wasn’t disappointed. All speakers did good job! Big thanks to UK UPA and sponsors!