Ethnographic Research

After reading the blogpost regarding ethnographic research and its effectiveness in the design process, I have a much better understanding of why ethnographic research is so important. In fact, as stated in the article, this kind of research is essential in order to get a better understanding of the situation and context of a target audience. Such forms of ethnographic research can include techniques such as,

  • interviews
  • contextual inquiries
  • focus group

just to name a few.

One great example of putting ethnographic research to good use was mentioned in the redesign of airport security. We all know it to be true that airport security can be a very hostile, stressful environment. In order to better the relationship between the public and Transportation Security Officers (TSO), as well as improve airport security, IDEO created a design that would change the current hostile vibe in the atmosphere.

Their ethnographic research included 300+ interviews and observing travelers and making note of their emotions, moods, archetypes and behaviors. After also taking into account the physical space provided, airport lobbies and checkpoint areas, they came up with a design that would keep passengers at ease and make it easier for TSO’s to identify suspicious personnel.



Ethnographic research, however, can be both qualitative as well as quantitative. The article references a man by the name of David Gilmore who emphasizes the more qualitative aspects of ethnographic research as opposed to a man by the name of Wilcox who, rather than conduct interviews and surveys, proposes quantitative research. Research that is used to “validate design” tends to be quantitative because “it is about averages and generalities” while research that is used to “inspire design” tends to be qualitative because “it is about idiosyncracies and little details.”

Overall, its apparent that ethnographic research and design go hand and hand for it is much more difficult to design something without really knowing about who you’re designing for.


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