Day#272: What is Ethnographic Research?

Day#272: What is Ethnographic Research?

Hey Uxers for today I wanted to discuss ethnographic Research I will be going into detail with the various steps in later posts, however for this post I’m going to give a general overview of the concept and why it is done and valued in UX Research and Design. For this post I will be referring to the site experienceUX, I think I have read an article or two from this site before and concepts are explained clearly and often with reasons etc hence why I enjoy it. They explain Ethnographic Research so eloquently and see below for the description.

“Ethnography is a qualitative research study looking at the social interaction of users in a given environment. This research provides an in-depth insight into the user’s views and actions along with the sights and sounds they encounter during their day. It provides the researcher with an understanding of how those users see the world and how they interact with everything around them.”

From this you can see that bringing participants into a lab will not help you gain insights like the ones mentioned above, ethnographic research aims to understand the participant in their natural environment think Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey Gorillas in the mist. If you are not that old then simply it is using observational tactics to understand people, their skills, abilities, struggles and daily routines. The article then goes on to describe two types of observation techniques, that fall within the realm of ethnographic Research, and I will quote this as well from the article here which you can have a look at

Passive observation: Passive observation which can also be known as ‘shadowing’ is where a user or users are shadowed while they go about their everyday tasks observed by a researcher. Sometimes before the research begins, users will be interviewed on their own or in groups to learn more about them and their needs. Observations will be documented throughout the day using a number of methods such as taking notes, photographs, sketches or videos. The research may be conducted as part of a team so that a larger number of users can be observed and therefore gaining a greater insight quickly. This observation method is a good way for researchers to see how users go about their day first hand and identify any disconnections of when the user tells the researcher one thing but actually interacts in another way.

Contextual interviews: Contextual interviews are where the researcher will interact with users while observing them going about their everyday tasks. The interviews will be held in a natural environment, so as not to feel too formal. The researcher will observe the user going about their everyday tasks and ask questions to gain insight.

I really struggle to find quality videos on this type of Research content, however here is a video that you can watch on Ethnographic Research to try understand it a bit better.

There are lots of free resources from YouTube to blogs, and sites like the NN/Group which discuss methods and processes etc. Even Usability.Gov will help with templates and steps for conducting Usability testing in the future. I say this because often it a concept can be confusing and you may not know where to start or what to even look for. Start with the basics and slowly build your knowledge as time goes, UX is the most interesting industry I have come across and I have been in a few industries ranging from being a paramedic, a high school teacher and a designer this is by far the most stimulating and interesting one of them all. Anyway before you go check out the video, and happy researching until next time Uxers. Bye for now

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