Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Conversation with Steve Portigal

The relationship between ethnographic research and design ...

"To help me work through some recent thoughts I’ve had about Design Research, I asked Steve Portigal -founder of Portigal Consulting and all around bright guy- to talk about context within digital products and the connection between ethnographic research and design. Part one of our conversation follows. Look for part two on Steve’s site later this week.

Luke Wroblewski -
Just to set some context here, most of my experiences with design research have been for Web or Desktop software design. For a long time, this meant usability testing. Over the past few years, however, I've been part of an increasing number of ethnographic studies that take product testing out of the lab and into people's homes.

The researchers I work with feel they are more successful engaging customers outside the sterile confines of a usability lab and in the context of their natural environment. This provides them with an opportunity to discover unmet needs that ultimately become business goals. But somehow I feel I'm missing something.

In my experience an ethnographic study for a Web site usually amounts to watching someone work on their personal computer set-up and Internet connection. All the activity is on the screen. Most of the context is online. So shouldn't "real" ethnographic research for these types of products take place online? What is the biggest advantage of going to their homes? Seeing their environment? Their distractions? Their use of offline data and artifacts? I can see it being useful to gain insights into how offline processes are used in conjunction with online process like shipping an item you sold on eBay. But when the product, the community, and all the interactions happen online? Isn't a huge amount of the context digital?

Steve Portigal -
I'm going to sidestep any discussion of what "real ethnographic research" means because we're going to get into that later, I think where I will once again sidestep it. Here's a few thoughts on what you've raised - and I think you've hit on some of the core advantages already but I'll expand (admittedly it may start to bleed together)."   continued ...   (Via Functioning Form)

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