design ethnography

“It’s just watching. But it’s billable”: The Challenges and Possibilities of Design Ethnography in Practice

by ANNEMARIE DORLAND, University of Calgary Design ethnography—the term rings with power and potential. Now widely promoted on design studio and agency websites as a core capability, it suggests the melding of design-thinking and interpretive analytical approaches to understanding how people create and make sense of their worlds. But behind the pitch, what are designers doing when they do ethnography? How do they understand the research work they do, their field, their data? When I ask designers about how they conduct ethnography, I hear things like, “It’s just watching them, but it’s billable.” Or, “Oh the Jane Goodall thing! We kind of do that.” And even, “Is that even a thing anymore? Isn’t that from, like, with islanders?” I’ve finally perfected a neutral, non-judgmental facial expression to present to designers who tell me in interviews that they really don’t have a clue what ethnography is—and these are creatives with ‘design ethnographer’ in their bio, designers who are tasked with conducting...

Anticipatory Ethnography: Design Fiction as an Input to Design Ethnography

JOSEPH LINDLEYDHRUV SHARMA and ROBERT POTTS Here we consider design ethnography, and design fiction. We cast these two approaches, and the design endeavor itself, as forward-looking processes. Exploring the means by which design ethnography and design fiction derive their value reveals the potential for a mutually beneficial symbiosis. Our thesis argues that design ethnography can provide design fiction with the methods required to operationalize the practice in industry contexts. Meanwhile design fiction can provide design ethnographers a novel way of extending the temporal scope of the practice, thus deriving actionable insights that are applicable further into the future....