Why we use design ethnography

Why do we use Design Ethnography?


Design Ethnography is when a designer performs in-depth studies into the type of user they are designing something for. It involves analysing certain aspects of the user’s interests, feelings and everyday lives to gather important qualitative research data to help give the designer a deeper understanding into the user and how the user experiences different things in different ways. Designing sympathetically towards the user is a very important thing for all designers to consider. It gives them the ability to design something that their target market is almost certainly going to benefit from or enjoy because the research information they have used to help create their design has come straight from one of the potential users themselves.


Why do we need design ethnography? Research is one of, if not the most important part of the design process. Without any research, designers would not have the necessary information that they need to create things to work in the real world. If a designer goes straight to creating their design without any information on what similar designs already exist, what is needed and what is not needed, their design is never going to be useful to anyone. Many designers find ethnography a useful tool for discovering hidden information about their user’s interests, their routines and their experiences.


­Ethnographic methods can give shape to new constructs or paradigms, and new variables, for further empirical testing in the field or through traditional, quantitative social science methods.”  (insitu, 2017)


What this means is that design ethnography can give almost any designer the opportunity to discover new valuable information about the user that he or she may not have necessarily noticed without undertaking this kind of research, allowing them to shape their design accordingly. They can find out this information by interviewing their user. Interviews are a very common method design ethnography due to it being an extremely effective way of gathering qualitative as well as quantitative data that they need. They can do this by asking questions in the interview that encourage the user to answer in detail about certain opinions, facts, thoughts and feelings. The interview can be analysed in what the participant says, the frequency with which they say things and their body language, giving the designer a very deep insight into the participant’s thoughts and opinions.


Personally, I find design ethnography to be an incredibly useful tool to help me gather qualitative data relating to the overall research question for my recent coursework. In my research, I conducted an informal interview where I asked questions based on the user’s personal experiences using photography in their everyday lives. After analysing the data gathered from my interview transcript using thematic analysis, I managed to find several insights that helped me gain a deeper understanding of the information that the participant provided me with. I can now understand how important it is for a designer to use design ethnography to fully analyse their research and design sympathetically for their target users.








insitu. (2017). What is Design Ethnography?. [online] Available at: http://insitu.engin.umich.edu/assets/WhatisDE-CoreContent.pdf


STBY. (2010). Design ethnography: Taking inspiration from everyday life.. [online] Available at: http://www.stby.eu/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/designet.pdf


spotless. (n.d.). When and How to Use Ethnographic Research. [online] Available at: https://www.spotless.co.uk/insights/ethnography-when-and-how/ [Accessed 26 Mar. 2017].







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