Two weeks ago, I posted on Real Time Ethnography which generated a lot of comments from both Thomas and Dennis around simplicity, innovation@SAP and customer truth. One of the comments which Dennis made hit has stuck with me:
The interviewers used a deep dive technique called ethnographics. It’s not a technique with which I am familiar though it sounds an awful lot like the conversations I have with customers pretty much on a daily basis.
Based on that and the subsequent discussion, i thought it would be helpful to give you all more insight into why you would use ethnography and how can it inform your work whether it be in the Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 worlds... and why you should care. This was spurred on by a post from Steve Portigal pointing to an Ethnographic primer from AIGA & Cheskin.
At the end of the day, I view ethnography at the nexus of design, web 2.0 and enterprise 2.0 efforts. Why? I paraphrase...
Ethnography is a tool for better design. A good design connects individuals with the products they are using ensuing that it provides utility. To truly connect, designers need to have compassion and empathy for their audiences. Designers need to understand the relationship between what they produce and the meaning their product has for consumers of their products.
Ethnography is the research method that designers use to create products which connect to the people. Good design enables customers to emotionally connect with their ("their" meaning the products that the individual consumes or uses) products... look at the connection that folks have to Flickr as an example. Folks post intimate details of their lives on Flickr and then share those details with the public. The design.. the capabilities on flickr -- tagging, social networking and now Yahoo piping thru Flickr all provide for a robust experience that generates a positive emotional connection. And the thing about connections is that its personal to each of you... you each have emotional connections to web 2.0/enterprise 2.o or B2C experiences for different reasons.
A negative emotional connection on the other hand promotes customer detraction. Detractors of your products and services are 10x more likely to say something negative about your company than promoters... another reason why good design is so critical to forming a positive emotional connection to customers.
Positive emotional connections builds customer promotion and loyalty which drives repeat business!
Ethnography is a research method based on observing people in their natural environment rather than in a formal research setting. When ethnography is applied to design, it helps designers create more compelling solutions.
Some of the critical cornerstones of ethnography include:
- Discover[ing] meaning
[in people's lives] by creating designs that address what is important to them
- Understand[ing] cultural norms
which are used to understand how people view and define themselves in a group or community (virtual or physical). By understanding those norms, a company’s brand and products will resonate with customers instead of striking a culturally disparate tone... bottom line, you understand them, they understand you, they like you, they use you, they buy from you
- Make communications powerful
Ethnography helps you uncover how communities of buyers are best spoken to. If you are selling to a Gen-Y'er about your new solution, would you be better to use email? Or Myspace or Facebook... the latter but why? Gen -Y'er see email as a formal rigid one to one communication method... they prefer a more collaborative communication approach.
- Observe reality
Context is King! To really understand how an individual is using your product and services, you have to see that use in context. So why don't we do more of this? Why do companies talk about being customer-centric but don't put any real wood behind the arrow? Because co-creating your solutions with customers is hard! It can be debilitating to a company to be told that their stuff sucks... after all aren't we the creators, the experts? NOT. But this isn't a Wisdom of Crowds approach, its the Wisdom of Individual users.. which after you observe and speak to enough of them delivers you powerful context to optimize your design
- Identifying Barriers
Ethnography is really powerful at understanding what will stop your solution from gaining traction. Again its all about understanding design in context of usage. Without the context, design is useless.
The rest of the primer is devoted to the methodological components of ethnographic research:
Check it out. Its a quick read.