dmid – Design ethnography

Why we use design ethnography

Design ethnography is a method of studying people in their culture, habits and customs. This is simply an umbrella term for qualitive research methods including shadowing, generative design, affinity mapping, thematic analysis, contextual interview and direct story telling. All these methods allow us to understand the opinions and perspectives of whomever is being studied. By using these methods, it allows us to gain valuable and meaning full data. Design ethnology also allows us to understand and gain insight into the lives of people.

The main aim of design ethnography is to observe, understand and evaluate personal opinions and experiences in order for us as designers to justify and rectify the way we design for the people. When in use, designers first have to observe and find out how and why people react to things using methods to gather and find raw data which in turn will be a more reliable and rich source of information for us. We would them use methods to give structure and meaning to this data which will over lap and give us insights and interpretation into the lives of people.

In our current module design methods for insight gathering, we have been exploring the use of design ethnography and conducting our own research using these methods. We are being taught how to gather, organise and conclude our information for our future carers as designers.

To start off with we used the method of shadowing to find out about the daily struggles of our 4th year partners. This allowed us to gather information and give and insight into the types of things we would be facing in the future. Although this method gave us a good understanding of the life of a 4th year, it was slightly unsuccessful for myself. The reason it was unsuccessful for myself was because my partner felt it necessary to discuss and talk through the who process that she would go through in her project, this left me with very little observations and not a lot of data to work with. We then went onto practice the method of videoed contextual interview, where we interviewed a person at random about how they use photography within higher education. This was all performed through a gatekeeper as it was more professional to use someone we didn’t have a lot of personal connection with. The next process was then to transcript and analyse the information we got from the interviewees answers using methods like affinity mapping and thematic analysis. All these methods used together allowed us to gain insights into the use of photography.

I found this whole experience valuable and rewarding as a designer and I am more than certain my new-found knowledge of design ethnography will be of use to me in the future. Although I found the methods useful, design ethnography is only as useful as the amount you understand it. It is greatly useful if it can be executed correctly and it allows us to gain insights and look at the bigger picture where wouldn’t normal be able to see it.


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