Tag Archives: market research

What We Buy When We Buy Design Research: Bridging “The Great Divide” between Client and Agency Research Teams

Andrew Harder

Andrew Harder (@thevagrant) is a researcher who likes to make things. He specialises in aligning emerging market user insights with shipping software using ethnography, usability testing, product sprint workshops and elbow grease.

Hannah Scurfield

Hannah Scurfield (@theduchess) is a design research manager working for Intel in London. She works with technologists and designers to drive software innovation and strives to institutionalise user empathy.

Editors note: This blog post is from Andrew Harder (@thevagrant) and Hannah Scurfield (@theduchess) who ran the workshop What we buy when we buy design research at EPIC 2013.  I invited Andrew and Hannah to guest contribute to the January EPIC 2013 theme because their workshop speaks to a much needed and missing conversation on what exactly clients are buying and what agencies are delivering in design research. Their articles allows us to peek into some of the important discussions that emerged from the workshop. They share with us several strategies that should be considered in the execution of design research processes.

Both Andrew and Hannah a very unique background that enables them to speak from the perspective of agencies and clients.  Having moved from agency research to in-house research, they understand the affordances and challenges that boutique firms and large corporations experience.  All views expressed are the authors own not those of their employers.

For more posts from this January EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang, follow this link.
design-5Like most good ideas to come out of England, the inspiration for our workshop at EPIC 2013 came from conversations in the pub. In this case, we were talking about “the great divide” between client and agency research teams.

Within a few years of each other, we had both left user experience agencies to work as design research managers inside big companies. Despite having worked in-house previously, this marked a transition in both our careers.

In agencies we  both sold design research to large companies. We faced similar challenges; fighting for more budget and time in the field to do more insightful work and wanting earlier involvement with designers so we could shape their work without compromise.

When we moved in-house, we faced new territory. Suddenly we had all the time we wanted, years of it. We had a research budget, sometimes a lot of it. We could work with designers from the minute they got their brief or in some cases, we were working to shape the design brief.

Yet we were also faced with some hard truths that we hadn’t anticipated. In our experience working for big consumer product companies means you are a small cog in a large machine, with objectives and dependencies that spread far beyond a specific research project. Couple that with a complex web of product owners and stakeholders and a design team to keep engaged, and you start to see why design research projects often come unstuck.

Often after spending budget on ethnographic research, design teams are still struggling later on, wanting insights that the research did not provide. And sometimes, no matter how clearly the external research agencies were briefed on project objectives, the deliverables unwittingly undermined the project vision, approach or relationships.

For both client and agency teams, keeping a research project on track is an art form in itself. However when we spoke with our colleagues and friends in research, it confirmed something we had suspected: nobody in industry or academia is openly discussing the process of buying design research. We can study project management styles but the topic of design research project management has been overlooked. The subject appears to be ‘taboo’, much to the detriment, we believe, of both client and agency research teams. Read More…

Big Data Needs Thick Data

Tricia Wang

Tricia Wang

Editor’s Note: Tricia provides an excellent segue between last month’s “Ethnomining” Special Edition and this month’s on “Talking to Companies about Ethnography.” She offers further thoughts building on our collective discussion (perhaps bordering on obsession?) with the big data trend. With nuance she tackles and reinvents some of the terminology circulating in the various industries that wish to make use of social research. In the wake of big data, ethnographers, she suggests, can offer thick data. In the face of derisive mention of “anecdotes” we ought to stand up to defend the value of stories.

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image from Mark Smiciklas at Intersection Consulting

image from Mark Smiciklas at Intersection Consulting

Big Data can have enormous appeal. Who wants to be thought of as a small thinker when there is an opportunity to go BIG?

The positivistic bias in favor of Big Data (a term often used to describe the quantitative data that is produced through analysis of enormous datasets) as an objective way to understand our world presents challenges for ethnographers. What are ethnographers to do when our research is seen as insignificant or invaluable? Can we simply ignore Big Data as too muddled in hype to be useful?

No. Ethnographers must engage with Big Data. Otherwise our work can be all too easily shoved into another department, minimized as a small line item on a budget, and relegated to the small data corner. But how can our kind of research be seen as an equally important to algorithmically processed data? What is the ethnographer’s 10 second elevator pitch to a room of data scientists?

…and GO!

Big Data produces so much information that it needs something more to bridge and/or reveal knowledge gaps. That’s why ethnographic work holds such enormous value in the era of Big Data.

Lacking the conceptual words to quickly position the value of ethnographic work in the context of Big Data, I have begun, over the last year, to employ the term Thick Data (with a nod to Clifford Geertz!) to advocate for integrative approaches to research. Thick Data uncovers the meaning behind Big Data visualization and analysis.

Thick Data: ethnographic approaches that uncover the meaning behind Big Data visualization and analysis.

Thick Data analysis primarily relies on human brain power to process a small “N” while big data analysis requires computational power (of course with humans writing the algorithms) to process a large “N”. Big Data reveals insights with a particular range of data points, while Thick Data reveals the social context of and connections between data points. Big Data delivers numbers; thick data delivers stories. Big data relies on machine learning; thick data relies on human learning.

Read More…

Does corporate ethnography suck? A cultural analysis of academic critiques of private-sector ethnography (Part 1 of 3)

  Ethnography Matters is happy to start the new year with a series of posts from guest writer, Sam Ladner. In this piece, Sam examines the different temporal conceptions of ethnographic fieldwork in industry and academia. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Sam’s discussion where she discusses how corporate ethnographers can avoid compromising research.   

Sam is a sociologist specializing in the social aspects of technological change. She mixes private-sector consulting work with academic research and teaching. Primarily an ethnographer, Sam is founder and principal with Copernicus Consulting, a social research company that consults on digital and industrial product design, organizational change, and consumer culture. She is also a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. She  has published in peer-reviewed journals such as Time & Society and The Canadian Journal of Communication. She is currently managing the Mobile Work Life project, which is investigating smartphones and work/life balance.

Part 1: A cultural analysis of academic critiques of private-sector ethnography

Corporate ethnography’s emergence ignited criticism that its quality and rigour was not as good as the ethnography practiced by academics. Academically trained social scientists have argued that private-sector practitioners are often not trained in anthropology or sociology, much less in the actual method of ethnography. Academics have argued that using ethnography for marketing and advertising is just more evidence of underhanded marketers attempting to dupe people into consumerism (Caron & Caronia, 2007).

And they are right.

Much of private-sector ethnography is as banal as it is ironic. In its bland quest to “understand the consumer,” it reduces culture to mere consumerism and thereby fails to achieve its own stated goal of understanding. This cynical veneer of cultural research disregards the truly transformative effect of “going native,” which is the first step to deriving both deep insight and innovation. Private-sector “ethnographers” are frequently ignorant to what ethnography actually is. The real essence of ethnography is the study of culture or as Geertz would say, the “webs of significance” or the meaning individual social actors ascribe to objects, events, or people. “Ethno” derives from the Greek word “ethnos” meaning folk or culture, while “graphy” derives from “grapho” or “to write.” Most corporate ethnographers neither study culture nor write about it. Instead, ethnography is simply as “on-site research,” such as an in-home interview, and “written up” as a series of meaningless video clips or as the truly stupefying Power Point presentation.

But these critical academics are also wrong. Read More…

Design Research: A Methodology for Creating User Identified Services

reblogged from Cultural Bytes:

For a long time, I’ve wanted to understand how ethnographically driven research is different from market research.  While I intuitively understood the differences between the two, I didn’t take the time to fully sort it out.

I finally found someone who not only clearly explains the differences, but provides greater clarity and depth to my understanding of design research.

I love the way Panthea Lee of reBoot  contrasts market research and design research in, Design Research: What Is It and Why Do It? Panthea explains that the primary difference is that market research treats people as consumers – wage earners with an income to dispose on a product or service, while design research treats people as users  – humans who are trying to fulfill everyday needs through what means they see as possible.

“Market research identifies and acts upon optimal market and consumer leverage points to achieve success. Its definition of success is not absolute, though metrics are often financial. Design research, on the other hand, is founded in the belief that we already know the optimal market and consumer leverage points: human needs. Unearthing and satisfying those needs is thus the surest measure of success. Through this process, we earn people’s respect and loyalty.”

Panthea’s essay doesn’t put a value judgement on market research, rather it makes the boundaries between both types of research more explicit. This clarity allows researchers the space to be explicit about when they are wearing the market research or the design research hat. Sometimes a project needs to be considered from a market and a design perspective. So this is when this chart below becomes super useful! Read More…