Design ethnography deliverables

We had a great meeting in the Danish Design Anthropology network this Thursday. We’re getting some good energy into the meetings, going beyond the usual epistemological insecurity inherent to our profession and actually getting down to discussing and reflecting on our practice, sharing experiences and war stories from the front lines of user involvement, strategic consulting, and interactions with other professions.

The format was fairly simple: A short presentation of a company and a specific case which all fed into a lively discussion of a particular theme. This meeting focused on the difficulties involved in convincing clients of the relevance of doing ethnographic user research in relation: How do you pitch ethnographic research in the best way possible to people who haven’t heard of it before?

One of the insights from the discussion was that it is central to be able to provide potential clients with case examples from your previous work, showing how the ethnographic research actually made a difference in relation to the design of the final product or service. This is both a matter of being able to show the concrete results – the deliverables – of the research as well as telling the story of how these insights went on to affect the organisation, service or product involved.

Regarding the deliverables, Peter Morville has compiled a great list of User Experience Deliverables with links to literature and methods on developing these. It’s a great place to look for inspiration on new ways to present your research.

As for showing the actual impact of your research, it is vital that your deliverables actually do help the client organisation handle their problems. Adaptive Path co-founder Peter Merholz addressed this issue well in a posting on the international Anthrodesign mailing list:

… a key reason research doesn’t get used inside organizations is that it is not presented in a way that the “customers” of the research know what to do with it. Researchers are typically comfortable writing reports with findings and recommendations. However, people don’t know how to act on reports. So while they nod their heads as you list the 5 key things you found, after the meeting is over they continue doing whatever it is they’ve been doing.

There are three primary ways we think about getting our research insights better embedded in organizations.

1. Have the “customers” of the research join you in the research. This is probably the most successful approach, in that once these people
are up close with their customers in this way, they tend to just “get it”. Empathy happens. The challenge, of course, is that these folks
often don’t have time for such things, which is why they’ve brought you in.

2. Well-crafted personas. I don’t want to get into a long discussion around personas here, but we’ve found that a well-crafted persona, one
that explicates behaviors, motivations, and allows the persona to speak in his/her voice, does perhaps the best job of building empathy
in an org of deliverable/artifact.

3. “Vision prototypes” or other design concepts based on research. Considering this is an “anthroDESIGN” group, you’d expect to see such
things more, but you don’t . We never ever ever just leave people with reports of findings. We always do some amount of concepting and
ideation inspired by the research to demonstrate how the insights from design could be made manifest in a product or service. This is a
crucial bridge towards product development. This might mean researchers need to be more comfortable with concepts and design, or,
more likely, designers need to be part of the research effort. We find that such vision prototypes provide enough momentum for clients that
the research does gets used in some fashion.

I don’t think that this is a definite list but it does underline the importance of considering your audience when you present your research. Something which I am still learning to do well.

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