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How ethnography helps product design


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Slides from my lecture to an MBA marketing class at the Schulich School of Business, York University

Slides from my lecture to an MBA marketing class at the Schulich School of Business, York University

Published in: Design

  • 'Verstehen' is the sociological term for 'understanding.' Deep understanding of a product's eventual
    'world' will help you design products and services that are culturally meaningful.
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  • Product designers often see the objects they design as singular, isolated objects. They will focus on the grain of the wood, for example, or the shape of the hammer's head. These are all important, but they are not the 'world' where the product will eventually live.

    This hampers a product designer's ability to think creatively about what they're designing.

    In this presentation, I argue that a 'hammer' lives in its own world, full of people, other hammers, weather, buildings and all kinds of 'involvements and attachments.'

    Ethnography helps us understand what that world is about. It uncovers the hammer's 'social network,' as it were.
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  • 1. Open to New Worlds: Product Development, Ethnography, and Creativity
    Guest Lecture MKT6440
    Schulich School of Business
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4. Copernicus Consulting is a social research company that specializes in uncovering social insights, creating design and marketing strategies, and aligning organizations to realize those strategies.
  • 5. Understanding Social Context
  • 6. What is ethnography?
    A method, a product
    Extended period of time
    Often focused on a particular culture
  • 7. Ethnography is observing
    Denver, CO: Scooters in local supermarket: represents shoppers’ need to avoid walking while shopping
    Toronto, Ontario: Intentional manipulation of corporate logo: symbolizes resistance.
  • 8. Ethnography is interviewing
    Or in a “foreign” culture
    Can happen in a workplace “culture”
    Or in a domestic “culture”
    Photo Courtesy of Underwhelmer, Flickr
  • 9. Case studies
    Corporate Ethnography
    Employs 24 full-time ethnographers who helped design a computer with a dust filter and runs off a car battery for use in India
    Ethnography in Asia and Africa lead to “image only” cell phone design, multiple address books, and long battery life
    Researched how consumers in developing countries deal with diabetes. Uncovered unmet needs in diabetes treatment.
  • 10. Case Study: Prada shopping
    Corporate Ethnography
    Embedded RFID tags in clothes so shoppers can easily find complete outfits
    Created frosted glass doors for changing rooms that turn to windows at the touch of a button
    Mirrors have a 5-second delay allowing shoppers to see the view from behind
  • 11. Why does ethnography help companies innovate?
    “Ethnography may start by exploring the experience of those directly involved in the institutional setting, but they are not the object of investigation. It is the aspects of the institutions relevant to the people's experience, not the people themselves, that constitute the inquiry.”
    Smith, Dorothy. 2005. Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People. New York: Altamira.
    We learn how people interact with our business, our brand, and our bureaucracy, from their point of view.
  • 12. Corporate Ethnography Step-by-Step
  • 13. Developing a better service
  • 14. What new product would you develop?
    Overall customer satisfaction rose
    Yet loyalty did not increase…why?
  • 15. What you learn from ethnography
  • 16. What you can learn from ethnography
  • 17. Sam Ladner, PhD
    Copernicus Consulting