The Design Ethnography Process (created by the #DE2012 group)

Posted by on Apr 9, 2012 in Ethno Thinks | No Comments


As part of the workshop for the Experience Research 2 module, our group organized a “DE tour” with which we tried to give our client an insight into what Design Ethnography is, how it works, and how it can lead to new opportunities for them. We organized 6 stations around the college and at each stage we introduced a step of the DE process.

This was a group effort by the DE class of 2012. Find out more about our group on the Voice of Experience blog HERE: Here is a glimpse at what we came up with:



Each project begins with desk research to understand what has gone before, and to gain a grounding in the key concepts involved. Additionally to scholarly documents, we look at social media, newspapers, magazines, and any other user generated sources on the topic. Our goal is to bring together a variety of sources to get a holistic view of the problem space. This process of desk research continues throughout the project to include new research ideas as our understanding of the problem grows.



At the very beginning of the project, our whole class went to Glasgow for a day to visit such stores as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, WHSmith and Boots that have self-service checkout machines. After we came back to Dundee, we started to recruit participants for interviews and shop-alongs, as well as doing more observations in the stores. The methods we used for recruitment included asking around our friends and colleagues, posting messages on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and posting message on the University’s weekly circulating email. 



People behave differently from what they say they do, and by observing them we can compare the observed reality with what we are told. We observe people, as well as the environments and interactions that affect people’s experiences in a space. This is complemented by interviews to ask more of people’s behaviours and reasons behind them. Our purpose is not just watch and ask, but to notice and compare and characterise by asking “why?”.



Good data management ensures that we are prepared for analysis. Audio transcriptions are an opportunity to reflect, and reading each transcript two or three or even more times allows us to get into the details and the issues behind the obvious. Those findings are labeled and captured in the hot report. The hot report also captures context; the setting of the interview and our impressions from the participant. This makes it easier for the client and other researchers to retrace the interview situation.



Analysis and Synthesis are iterative processes in which we begin to look for the patterns, themes, outliers and finally the stories of the participants. This is a repetitive, non-linear and collaborative process in which we are constantly quizzing the data. While the the analysis phase is about breaking it all into parts, the synthesis phase is about bringing everything together and viewing the data holistically. This process of sense-making is contingent and allows us to understand context in context.  



This is part of our process in which we make sense of all the data. We share our findings, and work together with our client to capture the unique knowledge and to open up the opportunity space. Through this process we learn about experiences from the user side and develop potential design ideas.

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