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Posts in category 'Ethnography'

18 January 2014

Tricia Wang: The Conceit of Oracles (talk notes)

FaradayWang

Sociologist and ethnographer Tricia Wang has posted the notes of “The Conceit of Oracles: How we ended up in a world in which quantitative data is more valued than qualitative data,” her inspiring and much appreciated opening keynote at the EPIC Conference in London, which she describes as “a conference for people who care deeply about making organizations more human-centered.”

Here is the summary:

Technology is playing an increasingly large role in decision-making processes. But are we really making more informed decisions? How do we even know we are asking the right questions? And what are we missing in our measurement-driven world?

This talk seeks to answer these questions by looking at methods of prediction from the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece to the use of electricity during the Scientific Revolution and the invention of computers in the Age of Information. These historical events provide a lens for understanding how we ended up in a “data-driven” society: a world where computers are mostly valued as predictive machines; quantitative output is seen as “truth”; and the qualitative cultural context is seen as inferior to quantitative data. The danger in predictions, forecasting, and measurements that over-rely on quantitative data is that a misleading representation of actual human experiences can result. This is a terrible mistake and one that is committed frequently within organizations.

We are facing one of the biggest struggles of our times: the challenge for institutions is to treat their stakeholders (e.g users, employees, consumers, audience) as humans, not as data points. Connected to this challenge is the dominant belief that numerical measurements such as Big Data, will lead to more knowledge, justifying investment in quantitative research at the expense of qualitative research.

This struggle speaks to the important role of ethnography in ensuring that businesses, governments, and organizations are people-centered in the face of bureaucracy and numbers-driven thinking. But before ethnography can play a more strategic role inside institutions, the field needs to evolve. Ethnographers need to focus on making their work more visible, more integrated with Big Data, and more accessible. Our job is to teach organizations to design for experience, not usability; to create for people, not users.

When companies prioritize experience, they will see a greater business value in bringing in experts to provide explanatory knowledge that is connected to real social experiences.

23 December 2013

Ethnographic research: Facebook is basically dead and buried with UK teenagers

 

As part of a European Union-funded study on social media (make sure to check also the UCL site and blog on the same project), the Department of Anthropology at University College London is running nine simultaneous 15-month ethnographic studies in seven countries (small towns in Brazil, China (2), India, Italy, Trinidad, Turkey and the UK). Interesting insights from the UK:

“What we’ve learned from working with 16-18 year olds in the UK is that Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.

Instead, four new contenders for the crown have emerged: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. This teaches us a number of important lessons about winning the app war.”

20 December 2013

Screen Life: The View from the Sofa

Screen_Life_bubble

A new study carried out for Thinkbox by COG Research and designed to help the advertising community understand the context of multi-screening (watching TV and simultaneously using an internet-connected device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet).

Using a combination of research techniques which examined over 700 hours of TV viewing gathered from filming the living rooms of 23 multi-screening households in the UK, psycho-physiological analysis, digital ethnography and online research among 2,000 people with TV and online access.

Here you can read about the research context, the methodology and key findings from the report which reveals how TV and TV advertising benefits from second screens.

Thinkbox has also posted a 2.5 hour webcast on the topic, whereas Research Magazine provides a broader overview, bringing the results of various studies together in one comprehensive and long article.

24 November 2013

An ethnographic study of UK policy making

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Professor Alex Stevens of the University of Kent, did quite an unusual ethnographic study – focused on understanding how UK civil servants use evidence in policy making, and in the process comes to some quite political conclusions:

“Based on participant observation in a team of British policy-making civil servants carried out in 2009, this article examines the use that is made of evidence in making policy. It shows that these civil servants displayed a high level of commitment to the use of evidence. However, their use of evidence was hampered by the huge volume of various kinds of evidence and by the unsuitability of much academic research in answering policy questions. Faced with this deluge of inconclusive information, they used evidence to create persuasive policy stories. These stories were useful both in making acceptable policies and in advancing careers. They often involved the excision of methodological uncertainty and the use of ‘killer charts’ to boost the persuasiveness of the narrative. In telling these stories, social inequality was ‘silently silenced’ in favour of promoting policies which were ‘totemically’ tough. The article concludes that this selective, narrative use of evidence is ideological in that it supports systematically asymmetrical relations of power.”
[Abstract]

The seminar blog post by Alex Stevens provides some further insight:

“How do civil servants use evidence in their everyday work as they create policies? That’s what I set out to understand when I was seconded to a Whitehall department for six months. My findings, I should warn, were a bit dispiriting. There is a systematic bias in both the kind and content of evidence that is used. I observed policy-making being distorted by the filtering of evidence to fit the particular goals of the powerful. The result? Policy-making that may be supported in public by evidence but certainly has not been determined by it. [...]

Social scientists – perhaps naively – hope that increasing the role of evidence in policy will support democracy because evidence is perceived as being politically neutral. But the people who are making the choices about what evidence will be translated into policy come from the groups in society that already have unequal access to resources, money and power. So the process I have observed of ‘narrative filtering’ of the evidence tends to preserve existing inequalities and power structures rather than challenging them.”

Alex Stevens is Professor in Criminal Justice and Deputy Head of the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. He has worked on issues of drugs, crime and health in the voluntary sector, as an academic researcher and as an adviser to the UK government.

He presented his research at a special Seminar at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on Tuesday, 19th Nov 2013.

23 November 2013

The future of the workplace: through an ethnographer’s eyes

 

What will the workplace of the future look like? Will it even exist as a physical space? Ever since networked computers first became widespread the idea of the virtual organisation has been touted, yet most of us still work in conventional workplaces. Recent technological advances have given a second wind to the idea with some even questioning whether organisations will exist in their current form or whether workers will be free agents coming together to complete specific tasks as and when needed.

Discover the answer (video) through the eyes of Jacki O’Neill, a Xerox ethnographer who spends her time studying people in workplaces.

This video was one of the 4 Emerging Trends presentations given at the XRCE 20th anniversary Oct 4th 2013.

8 November 2013

‘Why newsrooms need anthropologists’

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Journalism and anthropology both purport to observe and analyse human behaviour and experience, albeit in different ways and over extremely divergent timescales. And they both serve up their findings to the wider world in order to give it greater understanding of itself – and of what it ‘means’ to be ‘human’.

Walé Azeez and Sarah Marshall, both journalists with anthropology backgrounds, argue that combining the two could make for more ‘holistic’ and context-rich news storytelling and challenge much of the received wisdom and orthodox commentary often taken at face value.

News anthropologists, they argue, will not only be able to bolster the research process into stories and world events, particularly for long-form features and investigative work, but also complement the use of analytics and help drill down into so-called big data.

3 November 2013

Ethnography: is your company missing the train?

 

Michael Ohler, Phil Samuel and Mark McMurray of BMGI argue in Industry Week that focusing on human behavior and personal experiences can help you discover unmet customer needs and gain a deeper understanding of your customer.

“Ethnography does not start with a hypothesis or a model that the researcher will then try to invalidate and accept as “useful” if he or she fails to do so. Rather, the output of ethnographic research is a frame, pattern or trend that allows putting the vast amount of gathered information into a meaningful context. Sound ethnographic research may require a trained and eventually certified professional. Practitioners also emphasize the need to “give yourself sufficient time” for such studies.

While ethnography is an inductive method, its output can be used for further quantitative deductive research, such as surveys and statistical analysis.”

22 October 2013

Book: Status Update by Alice E. Marwick

statusupdate

Last year, I posted about the very interesting PhD dissertation by Alice E. Marwick (downloadable here). Based on ethnographic research of the San Francisco technology scene, she explains how social media’s technologies are based on status-seeking techniques that encourage people to apply free-market principles to the organization of social life. She has now rewritten the material – and added new interviews, new material and an extra chapter – for a book that was just published:

Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age
by Alice E. Marwick
Yale University Press
2013, 368 pages
[Amazon link]

Social media technologies such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook promised a new participatory online culture. Yet, technology insider Alice Marwick contends in this insightful book, “Web 2.0” only encouraged a preoccupation with status and attention. Her original research—which includes conversations with entrepreneurs, Internet celebrities, and Silicon Valley journalists—explores the culture and ideology of San Francisco’s tech community in the period between the dot com boom and the App store, when the city was the world’s center of social media development. Marwick argues that early revolutionary goals have failed to materialize: while many continue to view social media as democratic, these technologies instead turn users into marketers and self-promoters, and leave technology companies poised to violate privacy and to prioritize profits over participation. Marwick analyzes status-building techniques—such as self-branding, micro-celebrity, and life-streaming—to show that Web 2.0 did not provide a cultural revolution, but only furthered inequality and reinforced traditional social stratification, demarcated by race, class, and gender.

Alice E. Marwick is assistant professor, communication and media studies, Fordham University, and an academic affiliate at the Center on Law and Information Policy, Fordham Law School. Previously a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, she regularly speaks to the press on various social media topics and has written for the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City.

19 October 2013

Observations from an ethnography conference

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Alexa Curtis recently attended EPIC, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, a truly international gathering of ethnographers, anthropologists, strategists, designers, and others who are committed to understanding audiences in order to inform appropriate solutions.

Unlike past years, there was no explicit theme to which submissions had to relate, but themes certainly did emerge.

In her conference review, she concentrates on two: data (in all its forms) and the tension that shapes our practice(s).

Her reflection on why designers have a different take on ethnographic methods than ethnographers themselves is well worth a read.

28 September 2013

Ethnography and speculative fiction

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Two new articles on Ethnography Matters:

Ethnographies from the Future: What can ethnographers learn from science fiction and speculative design?
Laura Forlano (@laura4lano) is a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Design at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology and she was a Visiting Scholar in the Comparative Media Studies program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012-2013.
Her research is on emergent forms of organizing and urbanism enabled by mobile, wireless and ubiquitous computing technologies with an emphasis on the socio-technical practices and spaces of innovation.
In her contribution, Laura describes the lessons ethnographers can learn from Science-Fiction and a sub-domain of design referred to as “speculative design”.

Ethnography and Speculative Fiction
In this third post in our “Ethnography and Speculative Fiction” series, Clare Anzoleaga (@ClareAnzoleaga) from Fresno City College discusses the potential of fictional accounts of ethnographic work. In doing so, she complements the piece by Anne Galloway and the article by Laura Forlano: this time it’s less about design or design fictions and more about writing. More specifically, she highlights the rhetorical possibilities of such approach for understanding knowledge and shared meaning.

28 September 2013

Book: People-Centered Innovation

OliveiraCoverWeb

People-Centered Innovation: Becoming a Practitioner in Innovative Research
by Pedro Oliveira
Biblio Publishing, 2013
194 pages
[Amazon]

Written with a general audience in mind, People-Centered Innovation focuses on innovation research in corporate settings. Starting with a biographical standpoint, it describes the author’s transition from the fields of psychology and anthropology into the fields of business anthropology and innovation. Through a rich description of case-studies of corporate work, the author takes us into a fascinating journey across different ways of observing relations between consumers and corporations and generating new ideas based on that observation.

Pedro Oliveira is an anthropologist and an ethnographic research consultant.

Some other papers by Pedro Oliveira:

27 September 2013

An ethnography of interaction design practice (PhD dissertation)

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Delivering Design: Performance and Materiality in Professional Interaction Design is the title of the PhD dissertation Elizabeth Sarah Goodman defended last year to obtain the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Information Management and Systems at UC Berkeley. It is now available online.

Abstract

Interaction design is the definition of digital behavior, from desktop software and mobile applications to components of appliances, automobiles, and even biomedical devices. Where architects plan buildings, graphic designers make visual compositions, and industrial designers give form to three-dimensional objects, interaction designers define the digital components of products and services. These include websites, mobile applications, desktop software, automobiles, consumer electronics, and more. Interaction design is a relatively new but fast-growing discipline, emerging with the explosive growth of the World Wide Web. In a software-saturated world, every day, multiple times a day, billions of people encounter the work products of interaction design.

Given the reach of their profession, how interaction designers work is of paramount concern. In considering interaction design, this dissertation turns away from a longstanding question of design studies: How does interaction design demonstrate a special form of human thought? And towards a set of questions drawn from practice-oriented studies of science and technology: What kinds of objects and subjects do interaction design practices make, and how do those practices produce them?

Based on participant observation at three San Francisco interaction design consultancies and interviews with designers in California’s Bay Area, this dissertation argues that performance practices organize interaction design work. By “performance practices,” I mean episodes of storytelling and narrative that take place before an audience of witnesses. These performances instantiate — make visible and tangibly felt — the human and machine behaviors that the static deliverables seem unable on their own to materialize. In doing so, performances of the project help produce and sustain alignment within teams and among designers, clients, and developers.

In this way, a focus on episodes of performance turns our concerns from cognition, in which artifacts assist design thinking, to one of enactment, in which documents, spaces, tools, and bodies actively participating in producing the identities, responsibilities, and capacities of project constituents. It turns our attention to questions of political representation, materiality and politics. From this perspective, it is not necessarily how designers think but how they stage and orchestrate performances of the project that makes accountable, authoritative decision-making on behalf of clients and prospective users possible.

21 September 2013

Financial Times on EPIC conference

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This week, business anthropologists from all over the world descended on the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference at London’s Royal Institution, the historic site where Michael Faraday first demonstrated the power of electricity, reports Emma Jacobs in the Financial Times.

Over three days, practitioners discussed applications of anthropology in the business world, covering such issues as big data and clinical trials. Addressed by such luminaries in the field as Genevieve Bell, who has worked at Intel for the past 15 years, the event is an opportunity to meet kindred spirits.

In the US, anthropologists have been hired for more than two decades by technology groups including Intel, Apple and Xerox. Microsoft is said to be the second-largest employer of anthropologists in the world, behind the US government. Technology groups descended on anthropology in order to understand the diverse markets they operated in.

19 September 2013

EthnographyMatters on the relationships between ethnography, fiction and design

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This month’s theme of EthnographyMatters, edited by Nicolas Nova, is about the relationships between ethnography, speculative fiction and design.

“In design circles, the current interest in “design fiction” is geared towards exploring how prototyping and storytelling can benefit from each other. Design fiction use standard objects and media conventions as a way to express ideas about the future: a fake product catalogue, a map of a fictional area, a journal, a short video showing a day in the life of a person, etc. One can see design fiction as similar to science fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters-of-concern, such as how life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, as well as speculating about the course of events… which is obviously close to what a certain kind of ethnography is interested in. This ability to flesh out the details of alternative futures can be seen as an intriguing form of speculative ethnography with a specific focus on original format.”

This month’s contributors are:

  • Anne Galloway, an ethnographer interested in material, visual and discursive aspects of technology, will give her perspective on design ethnography and speculative fiction.
  • Laura Forlano, from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, will address what ethnographers can learn from science fiction and speculative design. Based on examples from design and popular culture, she will explore the generative and analytic potential of “design fiction”.
  • Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas Rowland, both sociologists at TU Berlin, will address post-ironic ethnography, reportage style and David Foster Wallace.
19 September 2013

Book: Design Anthropology

9780857853691

Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice
Editor(s): Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto, Rachel Charlotte Smith
Bloomsbury Academic, 2013
304 pages

Design is a key site of cultural production and change in contemporary society. Anthropologists have been involved in design projects for several decades but only recently a new field of inquiry has emerged which aims to integrate the strengths of design thinking and anthropological research.

This book is written by anthropologists who actively participate in the development of design anthropology. Comprising both cutting-edge explorations and theoretical reflections, it provides a much-needed introduction to the concepts, methods, practices and challenges of the new field. Design Anthropology moves from observation and interpretation to collaboration, intervention and co-creation. Its practitioners participate in multidisciplinary design teams working towards concrete solutions for problems that are sometimes ill-defined. The authors address the critical potential of design anthropology in a wide range of design activities across the globe and query the impact of design on the discipline of anthropology.

This volume will appeal to new and experienced practitioners in the field as well as to students of anthropology, innovation, science and technology studies, and a wide range of design studies focusing on user participation, innovation, and collaborative research.

For all of us who work, think, teach, write, and dwell in this exciting interdisciplinary space, these essays will be of tremendous value.” – Paul Dourish, Professor of Informatics, University of California, Irvine, USA

16 September 2013

Experientia and Intel present at EPIC 2013 in London

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EPIC 2013, the conference on “ethnographic praxis in industry”, kicked off in London today, with experts from around the world gathering for the three-day conference exploring ethnographic investigations and principles in the study of human behavior as they are applied in business settings.

This (Monday) afternoon, Experientia will give a joint presentation with Intel, titled Mobility is More than a Device: Understanding complexity in health care with ethnography. The presentation describes a recent research project on how doctors use mobile devices in the healthcare industry, and the impact that new technologies are having on workflows and patient care.

The project was conducted by Experientia for Intel last year, with research in hospitals in China, Germany, the USA and the UK. The conference presentation focuses on how ethnography can be a vital tool in understanding complex environments such as health care facilities, and outlines key methodological insights from the project.

Experientia UX researchers Anna Wojnarowska and Gina Taha co-authored the EPIC paper with Intel’s Todd Harple and Nancy Vuckovic. The paper will be published in full in the EPIC conference proceedings. Today, Nancy and Anna will present a concise overview of the key findings, in the Faraday Theatre at London’s Royal Institution of Great Britain venue.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken will moderate the conference’s Town Hall Debate on the recent challenges in ethnography. Short statements by Natalie Hanson (ZSAssociates), Sam Ladner (Microsoft), Tricia Wang, Leisa Reichelt (GDS) and Stefana Broadbent (UCL) will introduce the public debate, that is set up to strongly involve the participants.

6 September 2013

Four new papers by anthropologist Brigitte Jordan

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Brigitte Jordan, the legendary corporate anthropologist, once described as one of the “godmothers” of design ethnography, has posted four new papers on her website:

The Double Helix of Learning: Knowledge Transfer in Traditional and Techno-Centric Communities
Draft. Comments appreciated.
In this paper I formulate a new, integrated theory of learning and show how it plays itself out in three distinct learning ecologies: the ethno-obstetric practices of Yucatec Maya village midwives, the operations room of a U.S. airline where ground operations are coordinated, and a set of global industrial factories where silicon wafers are processed into computer chips. I do this in order to argue that since time immemorial, consistently and continuously, two kinds of knowledge and skill acquisition have existed that are exercised to varying degrees in those settings in a constant process of mutual adjustment, suggesting that they have co-existed with different kinds of balance and legitimization throughout history and across societies. I provide evidence that the ancient, experiential, immersion-based kind of learning is massively present in high-tech industrial workplaces, and suggest that it will be increasingly useful and recognized as valuable as the world moves into the digital age.

Dancing with Tools: How Technologies Have Shaped Society and Vice Versa
Anthropology News (March/April): 54:3-4:6-7.
We have been in bed with tools from the beginning. Every societal advance that we can trace or imagine has involved an intimate interplay between tools and social formations in the making. Now, at a time when the world is crying out for tools that help manage the uncertainties of globalization, automation and the digital revolution, we should consider what we can learn from the millions of years our ancestors have been engaged in making (and living with) tools not only for making things, but also for making sense of the world. – See more at: http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2013/02/07/dancing-with-tools-2/#sthash.AzzPsHfU.dpuf

Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities
Walnut Creek, CA. Left Coast Press
In this innovative volume, twelve leading scholars from corporate research labs and independent consultancies tackle the most fundamental and contentious issues in corporate ethnography. Organized in pairs of chapters in which two experts consider different sides of an important topic, these provocative encounters go beyond stale rehearsals of method and theory to explore the entanglements that practitioners wrestle with on a daily basis. The discussions are situated within the broader universe of ethnographic method and theory, as well as grounded in the practical realities of using ethnography to solve problems in the business world. The book represents important advances in the field and is ideal for students and scholars as well as for corporate practitioners and decision makers.
The linked file contains the book’s introduction by Brigitte Jordan, who is also the editor of the book.

Pattern Recognition in Human Evolution and Why It Matters for Ethnography, Anthropology and Society
Chapter 12, Pp. 193-213 in: Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities, Brigitte Jordan, ed. Walnut Creek, CA. Left Coast Press
This final chapter [of the same book referenced above] is concerned with a world that has been irrevocably changed by the arrival of the Internet and the massive amounts of data its affordances have generated. It speaks to issues that are of fundamental concern for all of us who are thinking about where we are coming from and where we are going, given that we find ourselves in a present that experiences unprecedented changes in the material and symbolic environments in which we live, facing an uncertain future, and, significantly, coming from a more or less unexamined past that goes back several million years. What do these versions of the world have to do with each other? Why are we “we” and “here,” and not “something other” or “somewhere else”?
We are concerned then with a number of wide-ranging issues, from the basic existential questions that confront society today to specific questions about the role of anthropology and ethnography in a world of ever-increasing complexity.
This chapter attempts to build a case for the significance of evolution for ethnography as a methodology, for anthropology as a discipline, and, in the end, for the future of our society.

28 August 2013

Ethnographic stories for market learning

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The July 2013 issue of the Journal of Marketing (a publication of AMA, the American Marketing Association) describes the results of a comprehensive study (pdf) by Julian Cayla and Eric J. Arnould on the way various organizations use ethnography to better represent the customer’s lived experience to managers.

The authors’ findings highlight how in many leading firms, ethnographic stories play a creatively disruptive role in: 1) challenging firms’ received wisdom about consumer behavior; 2) helping managers walk in the customer’s shoes; and 3) developing new business ideas.

In these three areas (market understanding; consumer empathy; market innovation), ethnographic storytelling has been a driving force in improving the tracking of market evolution, changing the way organizations connect with consumers, and stimulating innovative thinking.

“Although ethnography has become a popular research approach in many organizations, major gaps exist in the field’s understanding of the way it operates in the corporate world, particularly in how ethnography facilitates market learning. Drawing from extensive fieldwork in the world of commercial ethnography, the authors describe how ethnographic stories give executives a unique means of understanding market realities. By working through the rich details of ethnographic stories infused with the tensions, contradictions, and emotions of people’s everyday lives, executives are better able to grasp the complexity of consumer cultures. Overall, this research should help managers leverage the catalytic effects of ethnographic storytelling in their efforts to learn about and understand market contexts.”

Julien Cayla is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Nanyang Business School; Research Fellow at the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight; and Visiting Professor, Euromed Management. Eric J. Arnould is Professor of Marketing, University of Bath, and Visiting Adjunct Professor, Southern Denmark University.

7 August 2013

An object of journalism: the hyperlink

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Juliette de Maeyer kicks off this month’s edition of EthnographyMatters which focuses on Ethnographies of Objects, with a response to two questions posed to her: ‘Why is the hyperlink an interesting object of journalism?’ And ‘What’s the best way to approach this object methodologically?’

Her work on hyperlinks is a fascinating exploration of materiality, stubbornness and methods for trailing the object.

6 August 2013

Making the most of ethnographic research

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Applying ethnographic methods to digital experiences can yield myriad benefits that go beyond simply validating that something works or identifying opportunities for improvement, write Jessica Weber and John Cheng of AnswerLab.

Ethnography reveals how digital and physical processes work together to help businesses address gaps and focus on the entire customer experience. Anyone who has done ethnographic research can attest to its value, and to how expensive and time-consuming it can be. That’s why it’s critical to reduce the risk of investing in it. The investment does pay off, and this article presents five techniques to help ensure to make the most of this investment and reap the many rewards ethnography delivers.