Perspectives

Perspectives publishes leading global expertise about ethnography in business & organizations. Weekly articles show how integrating theory and practice to understand human societies and cultures creates transformative value for people, businesses and the planet. If you’re interested in contributing, get in touch.

 

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From Experience Models to Immersion Tools: Transferring Ethnographic Knowledge In An Agile World

by JOHN PAYNE, Moment Introduction Like many design consultancies, Moment uses a variety of research methods to help us develop a contextual understanding of our clients’ customers. We do this to discover and adapt new business opportunities to prospects’ wants, needs and desires. The value to the business is that their products and services better fit their audience, increasing adoption and use. Tangible results from this work range from incremental product enhancements to disruptive innovations that provide significant competitive advantage. Design ethnography is how we approach “fuzzy front end” projects—those that require us to define the problem before formulating a solution. Through ethnography, our field team achieves a robust understanding of the situation, but then faces the challenge of transferring the richness of these learnings into the narrow frame of new product development methodology. This make-or-break moment of transfer is when design ethnography truly delivers—or doesn’t. Speaking for the design...

Ethnography Injection at a Google UX Sprint

by JAN BLOM & XUEMING LANG,  Google Mountain View In May 2014, 180 Google employees participated in a UX sprint week in the Bay Area focused on innovating game­changing advertising and commerce solutions. Those participating in the sprint were designers, researchers, product managers and engineers. By the end of the three day sprint, the participating challenge teams had generated more than 1000 sketches and mocks, distributed across 23 teams, with the ideas ranging from ubicomp scenarios to novel service concepts. From a corporate ethnography point of view, the event was a success. A conscious decision was made to use research across various stages of the design process in order to ensure an empirically grounded direction for each group. The user researchers were split evenly across the groups, and plenty of interesting methods were used across the challenges to make sure that users’ perspective was properly taken into account. Our team’s challenge focused on design for the shopping experience. Therefore,...

Creating Business Impact

by ALEXANDRA MACK, Pitney Bowes I recently joined one of our teams in their team room during a visit from a top executive. The room would be recognizable to many readers—walls covered in post-its and flip chart sheets. The executive was immediately skeptical of the post-its. At the end of the session, he didn’t leave the room convinced of the value of the post-it, but he was open to believing that the outcomes of the project would impact the business. It was clear reminder that the methods we bring to the table, while important for our work, don’t matter to the business. While my tenure has included plenty of fieldwork, and I pride myself on the array of methodological tools in my toolkit, the impact that I and my colleagues in the “ethnographic praxis” world have on Pitney Bowes goes beyond fieldwork and user centered methodologies. In fact, I am not sure if anyone besides me at Pitney Bowes talks about “ethnographic praxis.” Nonetheless, the work and mindset behind what we do have incredible power to change the...

Choice-Making with Head and Heart: Finding the Ethnographic Center of Strategy

by DONNA K. FLYNN, PhD; Vice President, WorkSpace Futures, Steelcase Being an anthropologist has been a core part of my personal identity since graduate school – not because of all the years of schooling or the grueling dissertation, but because a holistic, systemic, and people-centered perspective on the world became woven into the fabric of who I am. The power of ethnography is not in its methods, but in the way it shapes our perspective on the world. We frame complex problems in holistic ways, seek out connections between micro-behaviors and macro-dynamics, and are inspired by the rich color of people’s stories. An ethnographic perspective helps us find meaning in everything we look at. Applying that perspective in our work is about translating that meaning into action. These skills are all fundamental to the choice-making enterprise of business strategy. Recently I have had the great fortune to facilitate and inspire strategy development alongside leaders of multi-million dollar businesses, and truly experiment with...

Engineers “On The Ground”: Mass Observation at Moto

by STOKES JONES, PREE KOLARI, Motorola CXD   Of course, EPIC has always been a ‘community of praxis’ (as much as practice) helping attendees put what they learn into action. For us at Motorola Mobility, 2013 was no exception. The company had reduced its phone portfolio to a handful of products; and knew the only way to grow market share was expanding sales outside the US. But we had not done ‘front end’ research outside American shores since 2009. Likewise, most of our newly hired designers, product managers, and software engineers had never created phones for any geography but North America. So how could we “sensitize” whole teams to the differing desires & needs of people in Brazil or India? And how could we flush out those devilish details which we didn’t yet know we did not know...the ones that make the difference between a product being “just right” vs. “totally wrong” in a new environment? We decided lone report-writing researchers could not bring product teams in tune with our “next...

A Dozen Things Every Client Should Know about Ethnography

by LAITH ULABY, UX Researcher, AnswerLab In the past decade we have witnessed the proliferation of mobile platforms, social media, and cloud computing. At AnswerLab, the user experience research firm where I work as a researcher, we have seen demand for ethnographic research steadily grow as technology becomes more and more a part of people’s lives. From the bus stop to the boardroom, technology is changing how we interact with other people, build our identities, and create communities. Over the past few months, we conducted several exciting ethnographic projects, including some of the most ambitious ones to date in both scope and scale. Coordinating large numbers of participants across multiple markets can be both daunting and exhilarating. In the course of these projects we were reminded how critical stakeholder education is to making the project a success. I'd like to share 12 client education best practices we have developed in our decade of experience. Explaining the value of ethnography Clearly define and document...