Ethnography is a type of social science research that investigates the practices and life of a community, by becoming one of its members. It is based on learning about a context and the people living in it, by understanding their values, needs and vocabulary. It requires faithful reporting of what is experienced or observed, avoiding any interpretation or evaluation as far as possible.
Within the field of experience design, ethnography or video ethnography are methods used to capture human behaviour in the context of the person’s natural environment, as a means of gaining insights about people’s behaviours and unarticulated motivations, drivers, needs, in order to create innovative solutions.
Design ethnography helps answer questions like what is necessary to innovate with success; what are the key social actors and roles to take into account; and which are the limiting factors?
Educated observation and participation are the main methods that enable our team to understand user requirements and context of use.
Two examples of the ethnographic design approach are shadowing and self-observations.
Shadowing is an ethnographic technique to understand a person’s real-time interactions with products, services or process and their shifting contexts and needs over the course of a day. Shadowing often focuses on particular events or tasks participants are willing to share. Talk Aloud and closure interviews are used to clarify questions.
Self-observations/Diaries is a method used when it is difficult or impossible to directly access a certain place (like people’s homes) or access is too time consuming. It consists of asking people to provide self-observations about their activities in the form of log reports or diaries, for example. Although this method involves the subjectivity of the participants in the data collected, it can be valuable to get a glimpse of life through the eyes of the people that are being studied.