Contributed Articles

Leaving the Bed of Procrustean Experience: On the Need for Ethnography

by MICHAEL THOMAS, Ford Motor Company User Experience (UX) Research and Design is a dynamic and diverse domain where designers, social scientists, and hybrids of all sorts are putting theory to work. It has successfully advanced a more holistic framing for human-centered design intervention, ideally keeping our attention on the user as the key unit of analysis at every stage. But we’re also discovering that herein lie potential opportunities for further refinement. UX has familiar practical limitations, and we debate these continually—the best way to measure, how to communicate, appropriate sampling, sample size, methods, protocols, metrics, and so on. Its fundamental limitations, by contrast, are inherent theoretical assumptions and biases. It is critical to innovate at this level of UX’s underlying principles; to move beyond the generally unspoken assumptions that the user is necessarily an individual and that the user’s perceptions about discrete temporally and spatially bounded experiences are authoritative. As a case...