Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Scaling is Like Making Sourdough: Finding Sourdough Starters to Help Your Research Scale


Cite this article:

2020 EPIC Proceedings p 357, ISSN 1559-8918,

PechaKucha Presentation—Customer ethnography and user research continues to move higher up the priority list of Fortune 500 corporations. As a design researcher at a global consultancy, my clients often consist of new or aspiring consumer research groups eager to scale quickly. Excited at first, these groups or individuals are ready to dive in but get discouraged by the size and price tag of “big leap user research projects” then end up never pursuing ethnography at all. Watching this pattern unfold client after client, it started to remind of making sourdough. Because novice bakers start out trying to make sourdough from scratch, expecting heaps of picturesque loaf of bread right off the bat. But that’s not how sourdough is made. The first step is finding a “starter”. Sourdough starters are small pieces of fermented dough that one can really only get from an experienced baker. You need to integrate it into your ingredients and to make the sourdough rise, scale, and bubble. The same is true of starting and scaling internal user research groups and initiatives. So what’s the equivalent to a sourdough starter? What are some “scaling starters”?

Karyn Georgilis is a Design Researcher who’s helped organizations marry consumer and commercial insights at the Mayo Clinic’s Center For Innovation, REI, the MIT Media Lab, and various consultancies.