Simply put, I love ethnographic research. I mean it when I say that this form of user research is probably the most valuable way to gain insight on your users and your product. And, unfortunately, it is far too often overlooked as time consuming or simply viewed as a waste of time. I could not disagree more!
First let’s define the term. According to Wikipedia, ethnography is:
The systematic study of people and cultures. It is designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.
So how does this apply to UX and research? By observing your users in their natural habitat, you get exceedingly more information and context about their real world.
The benefits of ethnographic research for me include:
- You see users use your product in a natural way, not in a fabricated lab setting
- It provides context to their environment
- You see things that you would never discover with a phone call or what the suer just tells you
- You discover that what users say they do, and what they really do can often differ greatly
- You see first hand the pain points that users are not aware that they have
- You can observe true behaviors
- You notice the environmental factors, like interruptions from c0-workers, slowness of equipment, and other physical attributes that affect the user
- You have the opportunity to ask questions, on the spot, as circumstances arise
- You can record aspects of the environment by taking photographs and video that could not be done remotely
- You can establish a better rapport with your users
- You can observe the entire context of the working environment, across rooms, buildings, people and other circumstances
- It provides impromptu “bitch sessions” that the user would probably not normally share
- It allows the user to feel like he/she is being heard
- It allows you to be an “eye” for the other team members who are not able to view the user’s world
- It gives the UX designer the best opportunity to really empathize with the user, by seeing how their work or life really is
Hopefully my reasons have given you enough understanding and reasoning to do your own ethnographic research. If you have your stories to share about ethnographic research, please do so in the comments.