Ethnography’simportance tobusiness
Connecting withconsumers’ needs                                                                     Ethnographic research ...
While user empathy and observation have always been inherent          Look for subversionto the design discipline - we can...
only managed to design better products, but also mapped out          Take a step backthe client’s portfolio expansion havi...
Ethnography's importance to business
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Ethnography's importance to business

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For more information go to seymourpowell.com and blog.seymourpowell.com/2011/11/boots-smooth-skin-plus/

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Ethnography's importance to business

  1. 1. Ethnography’simportance tobusiness
  2. 2. Connecting withconsumers’ needs Ethnographic research needs good observation, analysis and interpretation. Paula Zuccotti, associate director and head of research at SeymourpowellThe key to unlocking ethnographic research relies on this objects and activities in order to make sense of the wider contextintersection, beyond just good observation and analysis. How of their everyday lives. It is about pure observation with minimalmany times have you heard companies wax lyrical about the intervention and honest performance rather than task analysis. Thiswonders of ethnographic research but appear frustrated about is why ethnography has been more successful in informing andthe end results? “We spent time with consumers, it was inspiring the design process than traditional marketing techniques.amazing! But we’re still not sure what we’ve learnt…” Ethnographic research has become a necessity in the field ofThis is what I normally hear from organisations when discussing product, packaging, interaction, brand and service design fortheir experiences with the methodology. Ethnography has several reasons. Firstly, it supports the need for approachingbecome one of those words like ‘innovation’; companies must problems and briefs in a more holistic and sophisticated wayhave it on their roster but the majority still wonder HOW they are - as designers we find ourselves working in more complexsupposed to use it. environments, where no product lives in isolation and a greater ecosystem needs to be taken into consideration. Secondly,Ethnography’s ethos is spending time with consumers in their ethnography also enables global organisations to reach out toreal environments, observing their interaction with quotidian consumers at a personal and local level.Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  3. 3. While user empathy and observation have always been inherent Look for subversionto the design discipline - we can find examples of it in productsmore than a hundred years old - the commercial, formalised Look for things that are done differently and think of them inuse of ethnography within our industry dates back fifteen years. terms of shortcuts, work-arounds, and alternative solutions.What started as a niche process within the blue chip companies Then think about your clients’ brief and how that subversion mayof Palo Alto, San Francisco has now become mainstream. work within their current portfolio. Ten years ago, we discovered that one user was playing CD’s on her DVD player: what weThe good thing about this is that we’re now able to quote brilliant then referred to as ‘the death of the hi-fi’. That simple examplecase studies; the bad thing is that everybody thinks they can do of ‘subversion’ unlocked the user’s take on device convergenceit, running the risk of losing best practices and blurring the main in contrast to the manufacturer’s.ethos of the process. As a result we need to re-think what weactually do and push our discipline a step higher, including notonly quality observation and excellent analysis, but also goodinterpretations.1. GOOD OBSERVATION It is about pure observation with minimal interventionThe first step towards successful ethnography is to re-engagewith best practices and to remember this is not about having‘been there, bought the t-shirt’ but about good observation.Knowing what and how to observe by learning to look and thinkin a different way: and honest performanceActions before words rather than task analysis.This is the fundamental differentiator to other researchtechniques: observation rather than enquiry, learning HOWpeople actually do something rather than their verbalisedmemories of how they think they do it. 2. GOOD ANALYSISLearn from the users’ talents and ways, not from what they The second step is thorough analysis. This involves gooddo right or wrong understanding, empathy, curiosity, and the ability to rigorously transform your learning into compelling insights. To unlockThe first mistake is to presume ‘we’ are cleverer than ‘them’. significant insights you need to take a given situation andThe second mistake is to presume they are wrong. We should experiment with variables, forecasting different scenarios untilactually be asking ourselves what are they doing and more you find the one that works best. This exercise is a greatimportantly why are they doing it? starting point:As part of a research project with a major consumer electronics Remove the product, concentrate on the needs.client, we were asked why users weren’t engaging withthe business applications on their devices (e.g. calendars, We recently did this with an FMCG food company wherereminders). Instead of reporting on the failures of the we mapped the five w’s (what, where, when, who, why) andapplications, we tipped the problem on its head and drew more importantly the how’s of their current product in differentinspiration from the dialogue and interactions between the users usage scenarios (e.g. baking a cake). We then removed alland their personal assistants. the current products that served the purpose and started from scratch, designing alternative solutions. As a result, we notConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. only managed to design better products, but also mapped out Take a step backthe client’s portfolio expansion having identified the need fordeveloping new product formats. Challenge the business vision, their products and their brands. Being in the field gives you the opportunity to see whether the company’s products and brands behave and act in the real world in the way they’re intended to. Remember, who you want to be and who you actually are can be two different things. So begin by challenging the brief within the context of the users. You can learn a lot from ethnographic research about the way...finding the insights that users treat and regard your product.are most relevant to a Illustrating this point, we were asked by a large FMCG client to uncover insights to help upgrade their current ‘beauty’company’s vision requires packaging range. In this case we discovered users were usually storing the product in the cupboard with household cleaning products. Unwittingly it had become a commodity, but worsethorough investigation, and than that – not even considered a beauty product.a deep understanding of The key is to take your client’s brief, brand DNA or brand key into the user’s environment to see if they match. If there is a disconnect,the clients business. you can work together to help them be who they want to be. Emergent behaviour meets the road map It can be difficult to spot emergent behaviour but once you’ve done it, you will be well placed and already working in the future.3. GOOD INTERPRETATION Now forecast a way to meet that behaviour. Once you have plotted possible scenarios, work together with the business toThis third step enables ethnographic research to transform explore their capabilities. If the answer is “we can’t do it today”,businesses and can be found where unmet consumer needs house the propositions within their roadmap and work togethercross with unmet business needs. This goes beyond good to meet both the users’ needs and the business needs –observation and analytical skills: we need interpreters that can helping internal development to achieve business goals.take both streams of information and propose unique platformsthat live at the intersection of emergent user behavior and the Paula Zuccotti is associate director and head of research atcompany’s goals and objectives. Anyone can report what they global design and innovation company Seymourpowell. Workingsee, however finding the insights that are most relevant to a at the company for the last ten years, Paula is responsible forcompany’s vision requires thorough investigation, and a deep the creation and development of Seymourpowell’s ethnographicunderstanding of the clients business. Important to this is the research offer, and for the success of many innovative productability to input and help redefine that company’s vision. launches working in collaboration with the wider team at Seymourpowell.Empathy goes both ways To find out more please contact: design@seymourpowell.comThe biggest missed opportunity is to assume that empathyis only about users’ needs. This is where the majority ofethnographers and design researchers fail. We need to spend25% of our time in the field, 25% with businesses and 50%working at the intersection of consumer and business needs.Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.

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