Sunday, June 18, 2006

Customer Anthropology: The Art of Observation

Customer anthropology can be part of usability testing ...

"One of the fastest-growing disciplines in business goes by several names, but it's all about observing customers (and potential customers) at work as a means of discovering unmet needs that your organization can fill. You won't read much about it on the Web because it's still competitive-advantage stuff: What I know about the science of it I cannot disclose under a confidentiality agreement, and most of the companies doing it (Steelcase, Intel, Volkswagen, Microsoft -- that's Bill Gates in the pith helmet at right, from a recent Forbes Small Business magazine article on the subject) aren't talking about it much. Mostly it's called cultural or corporate anthropology or ethnology, but I prefer the term Customer Anthropology -- the study of your customers' people and behaviours in their 'natural habitat'.

While I can't talk about the science, I can talk about the art, and anyone who's a decent observer with a critical mind can quickly devise their own methodology for doing it from that.

If you're a birdwatcher -- one who's really into animal behaviour and not just ticking another species off on your list -- you're halfway there already. Customer Anthropology is a lot like birdwatching in that you want to try to make yourself invisible to those you're watching -- you want to see what they would do if you weren't there, not witness their performance for you. That means that you need to get permission to observe your customers and putting them at ease. From experience I can tell you that getting permission is easier than it sounds -- the companies I've spoken to are delighted to permit it, provided they are debriefed on it so they can (a) learn something about what's not working in their own organizations themselves, and (b) learn about Customer Anthropology so they can do it with their customers."   continued ...   (Via How to Save the World)

Gates - the Cultural Anthropologist - User Interface Design, Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Ergonomics

Gates - the Cultural Anthropologist

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