Ethnographic research in Service Design

Ethnography has become a valued tool in service design, even though the working conditions often do not allow for several months of field studies. During the international Service Design conference (Amsterdam, 24-26 November 2008) we organised a workshop on how service design can optimally benefit from ethnographic research. We mapped and discussed various useful methods, and explored the application of these approaches in further detail y focusing on a local real life situation.

The preparation and moderation of the workshop was a collaboration with Stefan Holmlid and Fabian Segelström from Linköping University in Sweden. Working in two groups, the participants explored a local case study on how private home owners in Amsterdam can be more actively involved in energy saving and the use of sustainable energy. This is an issue the city of Amsterdam is currently exploring, and was happy to receive advise on. After interviewing some local residents and a brief tour of the area, the participants worked on a project proposal that involved intimate conversations with all stakeholders in every stage of the project. In doing so, they had to carefully plan which ethnographic method would be suitable in each stage of the project. The methods map we established at the start of the workshop was a useful tool to support this activity.

The ethnographic contribution to service design not only focuses on gathering materials, but also on creating customer insights based on analysis, and using these insights to generate new service design ideas. The workshop explored how close collaboration between researchers and designers in multi-disciplinary service design teams is essential in this process.

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