Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Fundamentals of Observational Research


Cite this article:

2017 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918,


This tutorial offers a solid foundation in the art of observation as a field research method for human-centered design and innovation. An expanded, hands-on version of Mike Youngblood’s popular EPIC Talk on observational research, it will be valuable for those who are new to this method as well as more seasoned observers seeking an effective toolkit they can use to train others. The tutorial will cover:

  • four core techniques for conducting observational research in a wide range of settings
  • basic observational data collection
  • effective note taking
  • selecting the right tools and methods
  • ethical considerations related to observing others

Discussion will draw on real-life examples from diverse settings, including Mike’s own research in homes, bars, restaurants, car dealerships, urban neighborhoods, medical environments, and more. After instruction and group discussion, tutorial participants will have the chance to practice using specific techniques during video footage of human behavior and short field excursions into nearby Montreal public spaces. Participants will take away a toolkit of observational techniques that can be used to gain quick insight into a human experience or add rich observational depth to interviews and other qualitative methods.

The video includes only the presentation portions of the tutorial.

Mike Youngblood, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist working at the nexus of social science and human-centered design. He has worked with for-profit and not-for-profit clients around the world in a wide range of industries, including financial services, transportation, telecommunications, food and nutrition, education, healthcare, and social services. Mike is a frequent speaker in the fields of anthropology and design and has taught at the School for International Training, Maryland Institute College of Art, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. His new book is Cultivating Community: Interest, Identity, and Ambiguity in an Indian Social Mobilization and he is editor of Sustainability and Ethnography in Business Series on the EPIC blog Perspectives.

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