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Charles Frith emailed a question that he hoped I could address here
Is ethnography more suited to shedding light and depth on peoples relationships with some products or services over others? Are there times when it’s completely unnecessary?
That’s a two-parter! I’ll take a shot at this all, but I hope that others will jump in to clarify, correct, disagree, or whatever.
Are there times when ethnography is completely unnecessary?! Absolutely. But your second part is about time and your first part is about category. In terms of time, in terms of the process of developing a product or service, there are different types of research that may be more or less appropriate at different points along that process. There’s no overall answer, for me, it always depends.
For example, who is the organization? What do they know about the category, or the customer, or the channel, or the market, at this point? Is it a new product in a new category, or a redesign of something they’ve been doing before that they are improving? These are all facets of “what do you need to know more about?” I guess.
The best times to do any sort of customer research (and sorry if this is obvious) is when you can take some action with the results. If there are decisions to be made and they need informing by a user/customer perspective, then try to do that research ahead of time.
Depending on how you define ethnography, you may wish to see it only as a discovery process, as something that happens early on to define needs so that you can create solutions to match those needs. But putting solutions – prototypes – back into that conversation as a way to further validate the needs or dive deeper into them is a great way to go. You can read a case study of ours here that relates how an early prototype was taken into homes in order to have a more meaningful discussion about what the needs were and how this product could address those needs. You can always hold back your artifact for some portion of your session; that’s a standard technique we use.
As far as categories of products and services go, I don’t see that as a big dividing line in terms of the usefulness of research (and I’m speaking about research in general, whatever methodology you want to consider, some way of bringing customer perspectives into your design and decision process). I’d point again to the organization and its process as the crucial gating factors.
Also, are there precedents for ethnographic research in Asia?
Wow – two opportunities to cite DUX conference papers in one blog post. This PDF uses research in Japan (conducted by us, and by Adobe, over several years) as a template for considering research in global locations.
I think there’s two flavors here: Global companies coming to Asia to understand these markets, and Asian companies doing for their own domestic markets something like ethnography. For the first, absolutely. Japan, China, and India have all been high-profile destinations for user research (and in case anyone wonders, we are very keen to go back and do some more). For the second, I hear more about India, specifically, with an increasing drive by Indian companies to understand how their products and services will be received. A colleague in India does a regular audit of teenager attitudes for MTV India. I don’t know in much more detail the market for this sort of thing in any part of Asia, only the different anecdotes I’ve collected from various Asian colleagues.
Should I also re-plug CultureVenture at this point? For companies looking to get a handle on these other markets, this is our service to drive inspiration through immersion. Facilitated hanging out, if you will?
How’s that Charles? I hope you’ll add some follow up questions in the comments.