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Ethnography and product design by Prof William Beeman at ProductCamp Twin Cities 2015


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Ethnography has become an essential tool in Product Design Research. This session will present the many ways that ethnographic research can contribute to a better design process.

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Ethnography and product design by Prof William Beeman at ProductCamp Twin Cities 2015

  1. 1. Ethnography and Product Design William O. Beeman Department of Anthropology University of Minnesota
  2. 2. The Big Green Button Was the result of ethnographic research by anthropologist Lucy Suchman
  3. 3. Design Anthropology • Design Anthropology has a forty- year history • Ph.D. Anthropologist Lucy Suchman at Xerox PARC did her doctoral dissertation on the human-machine interface with the Xerox Machine
  4. 4. Suchman’s ethnographic analysis of how people used the Xerox machine resulted in a complete re-design of the machine. The “big green button” one now sees on all copiers was the result of her research.
  5. 5. Lucy Suchman
  6. 6. The “user” as central to design • "The user" is a central trope for designers, • identifying and meeting "the user's" needs and wants is the central mission of designers.
  7. 7. “Users’” needs and wants are elusive • Of course, this is never a straightforward process. • Consumers have complex, multiple needs, which they are not always able to articulate. • Also, designers may create new product ideas that satisfy needs consumers did not know they had. •
  8. 8. The popularity of Post-it notes is an example of an unanticipated need
  9. 9. How Ethnography Helps • Ethnography provides the means to understand the unstated needs and desires of users • It tells the designer not what people SAY they want or need, but what they REALLY want or need. •
  10. 10. House of Quality Need for Ethnographic Input
  11. 11. Kano Model Need for Ethnographic Input
  12. 12. Ethnography is data based • Often people contrast quantitative methods with qualitative methods by saying that quantitative methods yield data and qualitative methods yield descriptions or narrative. • However, ethnography yields enormous amounts of highly useful data that cannot be obtained in any other way. • The challenge is knowing how to collect data effectively and how to interpret it to yield information useful to the design process.
  13. 13. Assumptions of Ethnography • It assumes holism—that the world of the user is an integrated whole • It assumes that users interact dynamically with their environment • It differentiates users according to multiple social dimensions and multiple social situations • It assumes change in desires and attitudes over time.
  14. 14. Investigating whole worlds--Empathy • Ethnographers embed themselves in the worlds of the people they study in order to obtain an “inside view” of that world--empathy • “Empathy” with users is a popular goal in the design world, but one can’t achieve empathy without deep immersion in the lives of users •
  15. 15. Direct Ethnographic Experience • Nothing substitutes for direct ethnographic experience with users. • Attempts to develop “empathy” through mediated information, such as social media, questionnaires or directed interviews in unnatural surroundings will fail to properly assess user needs and desires. • … I’ve torn up the questionnaire but am using the lovely pen you sent me.
  16. 16. Participant Observation • Participant—The researcher enters the life-world of the group or community he or she is studying • Observation—The research records as complete a record of his or her experience as possible. The ethnographer Where is the ethnographer?
  17. 17. Progress in Ethnography • Ethnographic research starts with the most general observations possible. One is a “naïve observer” • Gradually observations focus on specific patterns observed in the life-world of the community and are recorded as data • This focus yields “hypotheses” that can be verified and tested using the data collected • Leading to insights about user needs and desires that can be incorporated into the design process
  18. 18. Other ethnographic data • Video recording • Photographic records • Mapping-space and activities • Informal interviewing • Inventories • Diaries • Shadowing • Storytelling • Autobiography • Biography •
  19. 19. Findordrawapictureofthisperson Biography Nam eAge Gende r Family Living Context Wor k Pla y Whoarethey? Wherearethey? Notedownyourassumptions Relatingandconnections Connections Who is this person connected to? How? (Include people/organisations they know and don’t know) Objects What physical and digital objects is this person connected to? How, where and when? Skills How does this person learn? What shapes this? What skills and knowledge does the person have? Habits What activities are usual or habitual for this person? What would be novel for them? Matteringandvalues Pleasure How does this person enjoy themselves? (Not just special occasions but everyday pleasures) Personalobject Pick one personal object that has meaning for this person and discuss what it means to them and why Mentalmodels Thoughts What does this person think or believe about the world around them? Selfperception How does this person think about their involvement in change? What shapes this? StoryworldUsethistohelpyoudescribetheuserandtheirworld Waysofdoingthings Source: Kimbell and Julier. 2012.The Social Design Methods Menu Ethnographic Data Check list after Lucy Kimbell
  20. 20. Bauer Hockey—Finding users’ language
  21. 21. Christina Wasson—E-Lab • E-Lab is now incorporated into Sapient, which has a Minneapolis branch • E-Lab did a study for Steelcase on office furniture. • First an E-Lab team did an extensive ethnographic study of workers’ use of space. They lived with the workers, interviewed them, took pictures and videos
  22. 22. Steelcase Design Results • Workers used spaces in many ways designers had never intended and for multiple purposes. • To give just one example, hallways and other "in between" spaces turned out to be highly significant sites of work interactions. • This finding had far-reaching design implications for Steelcase. It led the company to focus more on products that could be placed in such "in between“ spaces to facilitate employees' interactions. • Such products ranged from chairs to whiteboards. This finding has become institutionalized at Steelcase and is almost taken for granted today. (Wasson 2000)
  23. 23. Steelcase WorkCafé
  24. 24. Service Design--UPS vs. Fedex and Small Business • Fedex was losing market for small business to UPS • Advertising, price control, incentives didn’t work • Ethnographers went to small businesses and spent time with the owners and employees, logged shipments and were on hand to interview employees for every interaction with delivery persons. • UPS was seen as integrated into small business as part of the business “family,” whereas Fedex was seen as external, corporate, snobbish and in a hurry.
  25. 25. Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) 2016 Minneapolis 29 August—1 September 2016 UMN Department of Anthropology Carlson School of Management