Friday, July 15, 2016

How To Use Ethnographic Research To Help Your Business

As the president and CEO of a company that produces software-enabled solutions for other businesses, one of my biggest goals is to design products that create a compelling user experience. One strategy that I’ve found vital to achieve this goal, to which I directly attribute my company’s success, is the use of ethnographic research.

Stemming from anthropology, ethnographic research is the study of a something — in this case a business — in its own environment. My company uses it to meet with clients face-to-face and observe them in their normal environment. This allows us to view the real relationships between the business and its own clients, and as a byproduct, what the products or services they’re providing need to succeed.

Ethnographic research is without a doubt the largest part of achieving our user experience (UX) goals. However, it also can work for other types of businesses, whether you’re selling software like us, doing digital marketing, or offering a product like baby clothes.

How Ethnographic Research Can Help Your Business

My company UM Technologies is not the pioneer of this strategy. As Intel Research’s anthropologist Ken Anderson said, when he summed up the use of ethnographic research in Harvard Business Review, “Our goal is to see people’s behavior on their terms, not ours. While this observational method may appear inefficient, it enlightens us about the context in

An example of this in action: My firm completed work for a utility company’s platform in a market that had no existing systems to model from. We based our initial design on user observation and modified this based on user feedback about what features were important to them for running the business. The result was a focus on triggering alarms when things went wrong, without the need to review when things ran properly. Without having observed its natural business environment, we would not have been able to know what the company needed or been able to build a design tailored to the business.

Stiner, Scott. 2016. “How To Use Ethnographic Research To Help Your Business”. Forbes. Posted: Available online:

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