Unearth the unknown: Embrace ethnography in UX

24 February, 2020


Understanding ethnography

Before discussing the need to embrace ethnography in UX, it is appropriate to understand what ethnography is all about. The word ethnography had its origin in 18th-century anthropology, where researchers used to make a systematic study of the people and their culture in their natural habitat. The study so conducted was observed by the researchers from the POV of the subject. Thus, Ethnography can be simply defined as a study of people and culture through direct observation of users in their natural environment. The significance of ethnographic research in the field of UX design is of utmost importance. The observations made during ethnographic studies are later analyzed to determine the exact nature of the requirement of a set of individual users, which in turn helps UX designers to make necessary modifications to suit their unique needs.

How to conduct an ethnographic research?

Data collection is the first and foremost task of the UX designers while going for ethnographic research. A qualitative approach is the core of data collection in the context of ethnographic research. It involves observation, putting those observations in black and white by comprehensive note-taking, and occasionally questioning the person on whom the research is being conducted. The researcher must carry the research through the eyes of the subject. The process assumes significance as the researcher can extract data from the POV of the users. Once the collection of data is completed, the next step is to analyze these. A detailed and careful analysis of the data so obtained will provide the UX designer an in-depth view of the requirement of the user concerned.

Again, there are two ways or methods for making an observation. The first is called ‘Passive Observation’. In passive observation, the researcher will observe the subject without directly confronting him. He will follow his subject like a shadow while the latter performs his everyday tasks. He will thus collect the necessary information by such passive observation. Another method of observation is through conducting ‘Contextual Interviews’. In the case of a contextual interview, the researcher interviews his subjects when they go about their everyday tasks. The nature of such interviews will not have any formal environment. On the contrary, such interviews will be held in their natural setting.

Benefits derived from embracing ethnography in UX design

User Experience is a composition of the user, the interface, and the context. By embracing ethnography, UX designers can ascertain real-world behaviors of users interacting with products and services by conducting on-field research. It facilitates UX designers by gaining valuable insights, vis-a-vis how context influences and makes a significant impact on user experience. By doing ethnographic research, UX designers can reap several key benefits for making a long term, multi-legged UX strategy including:

  1. Identifying yet-to-be-met user requirements.
  2. Testing market demand for non-existent products.
  3. Uncovering unexpected issues not yet encountered in a usability test.
  4. Visualizing an all-inclusive view of the problems likely to come up in the future.
  5. Assessing the market sentiment towards a yet-to-appear new product.

The main advantage of embracing ethnography is the ability to determine the effect of the physical world on such factors, which has the potential to drive digital design. In essence, ethnographic research is all about unearthing the unknown. In the process, we, the UX designers, discover unexpected insights which, at times, burst the myth of stereotype assumption of user behavior.

Are you seeking a long term, multi-pronged UX strategy for your business? Look no further. We at Team CoDesign will take care of all your needs. Wanna get in touch with us? Drop us an email at info@teamcodesign.com