Advancing the Value of Ethnography

How Asking About the Best Ice Cream Reveals Ourselves


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2016 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, p. 550, ISSN 1559-8918,

PechaKucha—As an author of a book about ice cream around the world, I am often asked this question: What is the best ice cream? I am often stumped. I know that they want something that they don’t know from the “expert”. So when I hesitantly answer, I would give my personal favorite, one that I discovered during my travels—a goat cheese ice cream with roasted cherries from Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio. Yet I was curious—why do people ask that question if it could be potentially disappointing? Do they really want the #1 based on my personal opinion? Did they want to find something new to try? Were they trying to understand my motivation? Were they curious about a story? I unravel this question through an investigation of the intention of the question. When applied to ethnography, how does that question apply? As ethnographers, do we miss an important insight if we don’t ask about the best?

Jennifer Ng just joined Mayo Clinic as a senior user experience designer. With over 10 years of experience, she has worked at consultancies and product companies.