An Ethnographic Field Study

Ever since I started reading about UX I have been really interested in a thing called an ethnographic field study. This is where you get to immerse yourself in the world of your user by sitting with them at their desk as they work, or going out on a job with them - if they drive a lorry you get to sit in the cab and see how delieveries work, for instance.

It is about really understanding the problems and issues your user has in real life and getting an idea of how to fix these issues - they probably already have a work around even if it is as simple as a post-it note stuck over the button they MUST NOT PUSH!

Photo of me and Ben at his desk
Finding out how to add products to the website

And this does not have to be just for a customer, it can include your internal users too. Got problems with your customer service call centre? Sit with one of your employees as they answer the phone and see what they do.

In one of my jobs I helped to train members of staff on how to use our CMS (content management system). It was a complicated system and sometimes I had to go out and sit at people’s desks to help them. I never drove - always letting them do the work in an attempt to help them remember what to do. But what interested me the most was watching how everyone did things differently. Although there was not much you could do differently in the CMS, getting to the CMS, or the files they wanted to use or even just opening the browser was different for everyone.

I might not have been able to make any changes to our process, but I could at least try and write my user guides in such a way that they did not make any assumptions of how someone would be getting there.

Now that I am a UX designer I have not had a chance to meet many of my users in my current job. However the work I am currently involved in is affected by how members of staff add content to the website. This was a perfect opportunity to meet people and find out how our internal processes work.

I started by sitting with a chap called Ben. Although I did not watch him go through the process end to end, so not a proper ethnographic field study, he talked me through the process, showed me the software and took me through some of the problems they have. For instance it can take 45 minutes to add a new bike to the system, however they have to keep saving as they work as the system will time out and lose their work if they do not. Now remembering to save your work as you go is a good idea, but surely it would make life easier for them if it gave them longer to work on a product. Small things like this can make all the difference.

These insights will help me as I work on designs, as I now understand the limitations of our systems better, but it also gives me the chance to report my findings and see if there is any way we can improve things for our internal users. I hope to meet with other parts of the business as I go, for instance the translators or customer service team, to give me a greater understanding of how the business works at all levels.