Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Using ethnography to understand user needs and behaviours

Paul-Jervis Heath is a Designer and Innovation Consultant at Modern Human. At the Digital Marketing Skills for the Future seminar he explained how ethnographic design research gives us a way of developing a deeper understanding of our users.

You need to find out what users really need, not what they think they need. Design is a set of modes: Immersion, inspiration, imagination and invention.

Shadowing is one of the key design research methods. It allows you to observe real behaviour. By directly observing participants they are able to get a deeper understanding of their needs. There is covert shadowing where you hide and watch, controlled shadowing where you give people a task, and participatory shadowing where you go along with someone when they do something.
Other techniques including using interviews or following people for the day. There's a nifty tool, a narrative clip wearable camera, that takes a photograph every 30 seconds. If you tap it, video is recording. It's a great way of capturing time lapses to supplement notes that are made, but also for showing stakeholders in the business.

Diary studies record experiences to capture what they think and feel across. Modern Human used this approach to work with researchers who were choosing a journal and submitting a paper. They captured the emotions, the comments, and crucially, deep insights into experience of publishing and the behaviour of early career researchers with DSCOUT (Mobile Diary Study Platform).

Other ethnographic research methods include:
  • contextual interviews
  • expert interviews
  • direct experience immersion
  • analogous experiences (e.g. taking librarians into restaurants to see service plans)
  • guided tours
  • cultural probes.

None of these techniques cost a huge amount: it's more about allowing time for them. Often, the best tools for analysis are a big stack of post it notes and coloured pens.

Ethnographic research typically looks for workarounds: quickly seemingly efficient solutions that address the symptoms of a problem, not the root cause. People's values play an important role in their motivations. Inertia shows situations in which customers act out habit. How can you leverage or break that inertia? Take into account should versus want: the tension between things people crave in the moment and things they know are good for them (you want to eat healthily, but you like to eat cake). Consider how can you help people move from where they are to where they want to be?

Design for goals rather than tasks and you create things that are meaningful to people. You need to capture everyone's observations and understanding of the research. A good insight is intuitive not obvious, generative and sticky. You then need to turn insights into models.

Four modes of human-centred design

You can see this approach in scholarly communications with the development of a knowledge chain (as a pose to a supply chain). The academic system is characterised in a similar way. Ideas are the raw material - driven by institutions, researchers, funders, people, publishers. The lab is the method of production. It turns ideas into knowledge. Knowledge is cyclical and can be recycled (e.g. papers being cited).

At Modern Human they developed behavioural profiles for academics. These were like personas, but helped develop archetypal profiles. They turned them into something that looks like a person to make it easier for designers to bring to life. They used it to create and Research and Publishing map and a framework of discipline publishing cultures. Interestingly, they discovered that disciplines are more similar than they might want to admit!

Paul-Jervis Heath is Principal at Modern Human consultancy, a design practice and innovation consultancy that works with clients to create new products, services and experiences. He spoke at the Digital Marketing Skills of the Future seminar held on 8 November 2016 in London.

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