by JULIA TAN & CAROLINA ALDAS, Spotify
When we think about the “Discovery” phase in the product development process, we often picture product owners, design, and researchers working to understand a problem area, the needs of end users in that area, and testing product ideas that might deliver on those needs. When no product exists yet, it can be difficult to justify Engineering’s time.
As such, the Discovery phase tends to be heavily driven by product owners, designers, and insights practitioners by default, and Engineering takes a more active role when product requirements and specifications become more defined. The process looks more like a relay race than synchronized swimming. In the process of passing the baton, important context gets lost and some agility is compromised.
We’ve all been there. We devote time and energy to truly understand people, their needs and motivations. We identify and user-test solutions that have a high promise to deliver user and business value, only to find out it’s not entirely feasible...
by SARA BELT, Spotify
(This article is also available in Chinese)
Instead of asking how we can further speed up research itself, the question becomes how we can better integrate research into the product development practice and speed up organizations’ ability to learn and iterate overall.
For many years, insights was seen as peripheral to product development because of the perception that user research had low validity. I spent the first part of my career advocating for why teams should systematically listen to the people using their products, why anyone should trust qualitative insight to guide their decisions, and why research is a field of practice that requires specialized skills.
Debates about validity have diminished as the research practice has gradually proven its ability to contribute value. Approaching product making from the perspective of data, evidence, and empathy is pretty much a given these days. In companies such as Spotify, the pendulum has swung the other way, where growth in demand for research has pushed...
ELIZABETH A. KELLEY
ILLUME Advising, LLC
AMANDA E. DWELLEY
ILLUME Advising, LLC
Case Study—This case draws on work in the energy efficiency industry where many utilities rely on data-driven insights and decision-making to encourage consumers to adopt energy-saving products and behaviors. In this highly regulated industry, utility staff must show value through big data, and studies often rely exclusively on quantitative data analytics to create behavioral models to explain or predict behavior. However, purely data-driven research often fails to answer questions about why customers behave a certain way, and what product or program managers and marketers can do about it. In this case study, the team from ILLUME Advising LLC (ILLUME), a research consultancy in the clean energy industry, illustrates how their cross-functional team paired qualitative and quantitative research on residential home energy use. The case study draws on an exploratory market and segmentation study for an electric utility interested in engaging customers...
WAFA SAID MOSLEH
SDU Design, Department of Entrepreneurship and Relationship Management, University of Southern Denmark
As a social researcher rooted in the traditions of participatory innovation, I set out to take a design anthropological approach to study the early unfocused phases of organisational innovation processes, and explore ways of both challenging and supporting these. With an interest in understanding how the tangibility of design coupled with the analytical nature of anthropology can provoke richer insights concerning organisational practices, my research team and I designed an artefact, called ‘the tangible brief’, aiming to elicit real stories about the challenges practitioners experience in dealing with innovation. The artefact resembles the content of a design brief and aims to bring together practitioners around the task of creating briefs prior to evaluating the potential of new ideas.The paper sets out to address the challenge of ethnographic researchers navigating a complex landscape of organisational...
JULIA KATHERINE HAINES
University of California, Irvine
The aim of this paper is to explore the potential for ethnographic approaches in technology startups and the venture capital firms that support and control them. The current practices and model of innovation aim for “disruptive innovation,” but most efforts fall short, prioritizing mass diffusion and not focusing on where true disruptive innovation lies—creating a change in meaning. I argue that an ethnographic approach can lead to innovation of meanings, bridging the gap between radical innovation and diffusion, and creating disruptive innovation. I discuss some ways ethnography can help product innovation in the startup sphere. But, more importantly, I discuss how ethnography holds great potential for reshaping the VC field, by driving meaning into the VC I then highlight alternative viewpoints that move beyond the “realist” perspective.
Keywords: Innovation, Technology, New Product Development, Finance...
J. PAUL NEELEY
Neeley Worldwide & Royal College of Art
Extrapolation Factory & Parsons School of Design Download PDF
In our world where emerging technologies are increasingly a source of significant disruption in people’s lives, methods from Speculative & Critical Design (SCD) practice are finding their way into the designer’s and researcher’s toolkit as powerful ways to create new kinds of meaning and perspective that create new organizational value. These practices design future products and services not in a predictive way, but as a way to prototype and understand the social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging technologies. These practices generally decouple design from short-term company product and market needs and visions, and engage in new conversations about alternative futures as a way to better understand and navigate future complexity.
SCD often works to design for the messy and complex people that we are rather than the perfect consumers...
In this never before shared case study, we explain how our UX research team increased its scope of work from surface-level UI issues to a full portfolio of user-centered research. We use organizational ethnography and organizational change literature to develop a three phase model of research team growth. We then discuss the implications of our model for strengthening ethnographic praxis in cultures dominated by usability engineering. We conclude with a reflection on building internal bridges to facilitate change. Keywords: organizational change, UI, UX, research, ethnography, usability, lean....
JULIE MARIE NORVAISAS and JONATHAN “YONI” KARPFEN
LinkedIn's User Experience Design (UED) Research team is relatively small. The data we gather is even more drastically outnumbered. LinkedIn’s design and product development process is steeped in behavioral data, real-time metrics, and predictive models. Working alongside teams generating and focused on big numbers, our group of qualitative researchers helps decision makers understand how our products fit into members’ lives, envision future experiences, and take a peek behind the numbers. We'll share how our team discovers and uses “little data” to inform and inspire, in the context of a company driven by “big data.”...
SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG
Critical corporate ethnography does not stop at the field or our reports but extends into our day-to-day work in the office. Using the example of internal research conducted for next generation internet Café (iCafe) product development in the PRC, we will argue that corporate ethnographers must go beyond self-reflexive fieldwork to tackle the organizational and cultural politics of our domain expertise. In this latter context, we become conflated with “the field” and, indeed, our corporate value is equated with the veracity of our field representations. The situation becomes eminently more complex in MNCs where in-depth ethnographic research is analyzed and acted on in multi-national teams and where internal cultural differences and professional disagreements parade as divergent corporate interests....
ARI NAVE and ZACH LEV
Evolutionary forces are applied as a framework for understanding the dynamics that determine which insights, generated from a corporately-funded ethnography, flourish in the organization and which fail to thrive. Using duel-inheritance theory model, the paper explores sui generis elements of the ideas themselves, contextual variables, the mechanics and mediums of transmission, as well as contextual selective pressures such as how organizational structures trigger prestige bias. Leveraging anecdotal data, the paper points to the value of evolutionary theory as a framework for understanding broad patterns of information dissemination....
As companies become more interested in innovation, design, and the creation of experiences, they are increasingly utilizing ethnography as a way to understand their customers and potential customers. However, for most companies ethnography is still conducted in the classical sense, with researchers observing and talking to participants in order to draw out insights about the “other.” Few consider the use of autoethnography, that is, having people deeply and rigorously study themselves in order to produce a richer description of the problem space and of how new products might potentially solve those problems.
This paper draws on two research projects conducted by the author, compares the data collection methods and research results obtained with both approaches, and suggests some ways in which using an autoethnographic approach could lead to more insightful research results. It also raises questions about how we as researchers can increase our understanding of and respect for what it really means to be a research subject....
ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and JEFF UBOIS
Newspapers are in trouble. Steep declines in circulation and advertising revenue have forced outright closures, reductions in force, cessation of print in favor of web only editions and frantic searches for additional sources of revenue and audience. In this paper, we report results from an interview study focused on everyday news consumption practices. Our study indicates there are many design opportunities for local news creation and distribution at interface/interaction, infrastructure and strategy levels....
DONNA K. FLYNN and TRACEY LOVEJOY
This paper explores ways in which ethnographic impact in a large technology corporation is perceived, re-defined, and recognized – by both practitioners themselves and corporate stakeholders. The authors trace a history of ethnographic successes and stumbles, and ways they have confronted a strong usability paradigm that has shaped organizational assumptions of impact and value for product research. They then identify ways in which contextual analysis of their own practice in the corporation led to the successful creation of a strategic engagement model for ethnography, resulting in its growing influence. Through critical analysis of the conditions of influence in their own organization, the authors’ propose some broader frameworks for ethnographic impact and raise some questions for the EPIC community regarding business value, ethnographic identity, and organizational authority....
KEN ANDERSON, TONY SALVADOR and BRANDON BARNETT
Since the 90’s, one of ethnography’s values has been about the reduction in the risk of developing new products and services by providing contextual information about people’s lives. This model is breaking down. Ethnography can continue to provide value in the new environment by enabling the corporation to be agile. We need to: (1) identify flux in social-technological fabric; (2) engage in the characterization of the business ecosystems to understand order; and (3) be a catalyst with rapid deep dives. Together we call it a FOC approach (flux, order, catalyst)....
YOSHA GARGEYA and MADS HOLME
Ethnography and clinical research appear fundamentally disparate, even conflicting. Their very objectives are dichotomous – the latter moves molecules ‘from the lab to consumer market’ in controlled environments, while the former studies the uncontrolled environment of everyday life. However, with the new reality of pharmaceutical research and development, companies are urged to look into new ways of delivering impact and value to payers, prescribers, and users. This paper explores how ethnographic research can fill that role in early stages of pharmaceutical clinical trials, challenging current paradigms of method as well as parameters for success – and how bridging methodologies can open new avenues for ethnographic practice in business....