Ethnographic Research

You may think you fully understand your audience’s needs and wants in a new product, but there is always a lot to learn. You won’t know exactly what they go through until you’re out in the field, experiencing their day-to-day operations first-hand. This in-depth, ethnographic research experience is exactly what Brooks Stevens provides.

Design Research Methods

In order to fully understand the audience, Brooks Stevens often recommends a thorough ethnographic research phase. Ethnographic research, unlike quantitative forms of research, focuses on small, but meaningful, sample sizes. It can be conducted on users at all ends of the purchasing cycle, from those interested in a new product, to those that have been engaged with an existing product throughout their lifetime. Ethnographic research is conducted through several different design research methods, such as:

  • Focus Groups
  • In-Field Research

Focus Groups

Focus groups are a great way to get your target audience’s opinion on a new idea or product. During the session, a facilitator will ask a group of individuals about a variety of topics that may include:

  • Their opinion on a specific product or feature
  • Challenges they face when performing tasks
  • What they’d like to see in a new product

The facilitator guides the conversation, asking clarification questions when needed. While focus groups can provide incredibly valuable insight, depending on your goals, a more in-depth design research method may be applicable.

In-Field Research

The most thorough forms of ethnographic research are conducted in the field. During in-field research and research missions, Brooks Stevens takes clients out of the office to interact directly with those using their products. The research team takes a hands-off approach, allowing the user to act normally so the team can observe and ask questions when necessary.

This may be conducted early in the purchasing cycle, for example, observing a couple while they are shopping for a new power tool. Or, this process may be conducted with users further down the funnel, for example, a site manager installing floor at a construction site with the tool.

At Brooks Stevens, we find this type of research to often be the most insightful. A user will often bring up a challenge they face that was unknown to the team prior to that visit. The design team would not have known to correct that issue in the design if this detailed research would not have been conducted.

This thorough research process provides valuable data that is a basis for the rest of the design. This research is used by industrial designers and client teams in the following way:

Design Validation

Ethnographic research can validate that ideas or existing designs provide what is right for the customer. It can also invalidate concepts that don’t match the needs of the consumer.

Customer Needs First

Conducting thorough design research ensures that the customer needs are kept top of mind, and highlights the most important product features that are needed going forward.

New Design Opportunities

How customers act is sometimes different than what they tell others. Any real-life insight can help highlight design opportunities that were unknown previously and put new products one step ahead of the competition.

In addition to thorough ethnographic research, Brooks Stevens uncovers and develops design plans through several other design research methods:

  • Competitive benchmarking and market studies
  • Product or brand strategy development
  • Voice of customer studies

Do you need help with ethnographic research and planning for an upcoming product launch or product analysis? Contact Brooks Stevens to learn how their team of researchers can assist you.