Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research is an in-depth qualitative research method that involves the systematic collection of data by a researcher through immersion in the context and environment of the topic being studied. Ethnographic studies typically collect a rich set of data encompassing interactions between individuals, user actions and behaviors, and subtle dynamics that exist within teams and organizations.

Ethnographic research is often an important data-gathering step for design projects in complex domains where a deeper level of understanding is critical and would not be obtained by conducting typical user interviews. The rich nature of ethnographic findings provides user-centered practitioners with environmental, contextual, and organizational details that can be essential when designing or orchestrating complex systems or services. An added benefit of the immersive aspect of ethnographic studies is the opportunity for user experience practitioners to put themselves in the shoes of the individuals using the tools or systems that are being designed, creating a valuable sense of empathy and a deeper level of knowledge than one may obtain from interviews alone.

At Blink, we find that ethnographic studies, though longer in nature than other approaches, can provide essential insights that may not be captured through other research methods, such as:

  • Contextual and environmental constraints that may impact the success of a design solution
  • Unanticipated and latent unmet needs that would be overlooked in basic user interviews
  • Aspects of team or organizational dynamics that can be discovered only through immersion
  • Deeper levels of understanding of the motivations, behaviors, and attitudes of individuals using a system or service that may inform more effective design solutions

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