Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Creating a Strategic Role for Research in Your Organization


Approx 78 min

Human-centered research practices embedded in business contexts have matured to a problematic inflection point. Called upon as a means of finding answers to human complexities, qualitative research is often measured against misappropriated metrics of success. Time, money, efficiency, and return on investment have been artificially applied to demonstrate value to the rest of the business. Although these metrics are meaningful to a business at large, they can diminish the credibility of a nuanced research engagement. This false tie leads to tendencies behind research practices that no longer service the domain of human-centered research—that even hurt it. Leading with method, over-simplifying complex human dynamics, misaligning questions with objectives, and setting unrealistic expectations of data gathering are just some of these responsive tendencies. Research can no longer be a gratuitous technique, conjured to help others get their work done.

Research must establish a strategic presence. In this talk, Meena Kothandaraman and Zarla Ludin of twig+fish will share a quickly consumable framework that helps researchers establish that strategic lens. Distributing the research mindset, teaching the mechanics of good study design, and providing a “parking lot” for as-yet answered questions are just some of the benefits of the framework Meena and Zarla will share. Consumers and producers of research alike will be able to immediately apply the talk’s central framework—NCredible—in their day-to-day work.


With 25 years of experience in consulting, Meena Kothandaraman emphasizes the strategic value of customer experience across product, space and service. She truly believes that businesses can achieve greater focus by better understanding the behaviors of their customers, as well as those who create the products from within the business. Passionate about studying customer realities and aspirations, Meena believes that the journey of conducting research acts as inspiration to the business both internally and externally. Originally from Ottawa, Meena is the co-founder of twig+fish, a research and strategy practice based in Boston, that espouses these research beliefs. Previously, Meena managed the Customer Experience Innovation Center for the Scient Corporation in Boston, worked as a Managing Director with Human Factors International, and led the Human Factors Competency in the Midwest region for Cambridge Technology Partners. She also has been a key contributor to the Bentley University Human Factors and Information Design (HFID), where she has helped evolve the course offerings to stand as one of the top human factors/user experience programs worldwide. Meena also teaches Indian classical music, writes children’s books, and used to have her own cooking show. @meena_ko

Zarla Ludin is the co-founder of twig+fish, a research and strategy practice based in Boston. Bringing an anthropological perspective to every project, She is passionate about helping people build stronger connections with each other. Zarla’s expertise lies in her ability to help people reveal, reflect, and describe the parts of life everyone takes for granted, and she has a knack for helping teams access their natural curiosity and bring a more empathic lens into their work. Prior to twig+fish, Zarla was Director of Insights at Motivate Design and a Senior Researcher for Essential. Her many years in consulting have given her the insight into team dynamics that make twig+fish a unique form of human-centered consulting. Zarla has worked for design, marketing, engineering, and brand teams in a number of domains including civic services, financial, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, and engineered products. Zarla has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and an MS in Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University. Zarla is also a certified yoga instructor and avid sea glass hunter! @zarlashtah


Log in to watch the video presentation:

Not an EPIC member? Learn more about membership.