International Business Ethnography: Are We Looking for Cultural Differences?

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Hitachi, Ltd. Research & Development Group

Independent UX Research & Design Consultant

In international business ethnography, clients and subjects don’t share the same background. Without an understanding of the underlying factors affecting the subject’s behaviors, data can lead to false home-market based assumptions about cause and effect. Where do we as researchers look to detect meaningful findings in international contexts? Drawing on our decades of international fieldwork, we describe how focusing on culture or cultural differences to interpret differences in workflows and attitudes can sometimes hamper accurate interpretation of observations. We describe through case studies how instead, identifying foundation factors shaping behaviors and mindsets such as market forces, government policy, labour markets, and financial schemas can be the key to insight in international contexts.

Keywords: Ethnography, International, Japan, fieldwork, workflow, products and systems, user research, UX, cross-cultural, personas, culture, cultural differences

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