Deep dive ethnography is a way of using structured interactions to gain empathic insights about the people you’re designing for, often while sharing their experiences in their own setting. This kind of research connects all levels of an organisation with the people it designs for, providing real-world context for existing knowledge, and grounding ideas, designs, insights and beliefs in evidence drawn straight from people’s lives.
Ethnographic design research
We involve participants in specially designed activities to gain an insider’s view of their experiences with a service or product, often at multiple points. This enables us to build a relationship in which they open up, and help us explore deeply enough to uncover their most fundamental behavioural and motivational drivers. It also helps them understand the topic well enough to identify and focus upon the aspects of their life or behaviour that matter the most. These activities can take many forms, from individual interviews and collaborative workshops to contextual inquiry and auto-ethnography.
Visual design research
We use film and photography to share people’s stories in ways that enable client teams to empathise and gain a deep understanding of their customers’ experiences. Visual design research can take place at any point in the design process to investigate people’s experiences, or their response to design interventions, from ideas and concepts to prototypes and products, services or systems. It also enables us to understand the consequences or potential of futures we might design. Visual design research can include the use of wearable cameras and smartphone apps with which participants can record their experiences from a first-person perspective without disrupting their everyday activities.
STBY has developed a unique approach to video documentary that informs and inspires teams by letting them stand in the shoes of the people they’re designing for. Unlike the clean and simplified consumer profiles based on marketing statistics that are so often the basis for design briefs, design documentaries require viewers to actively interpret what they see: refine what problems they might solve or which interactions they should facilitate. Design documentaries are not limited to the existing lives of participants. Ideas, concepts and prototypes can also be brought into the picture. This helps seeing them in different ways, by identifying with different people and focusing on different significant details. This leads to rich conversations that powerfully support design and business decisions.
STBY was asked to support the Customer Experience Team of Vodafone in reviewing and improving the most important customer journeys undertaken by Vodafone’s customers. STBY worked closely together with the client team in conducting, documenting and analysing in-depth qualitative research into the experiences and perspectives of several customer segments (both B2C and B2B). An innovation model based on the customers’ perspective was co-developed and opportunities and service concepts explored through co-creation workshops.
Working closely with the UK Design Council and Southern Water, STBY was asked to investigate opportunities for new customer services in conjunction with the installation of smart water meters in households across the South East of England. We conducted an in-depth ethnographic study among 23 households in South East England, identified 4 distinct personas, and visualised those in a series of videos and a full colour poster that were used to inform and inspire strategic discussions on new service concepts.
What services are needed and welcomed to support people living with dementia? STBY tackled this question together with the service innovation team at Zuidzorg, a Dutch provider of extra-mural health care services. This project focused on offering services for dementia sufferers who want to remain living in their own home. Over the years STBY has also worked on many other projects with Zuidzorg.
STBY’s ‘auto-cam project’, in collaboration with Goldsmiths’ Interaction Research Studio, and co-funded by Innovate UK, looked at how automated point-of-view photography can push visual design research forward.
Viewfinders offers a collection of articles on visual design research that includes learnings from STBY projects in which design documentaries played a role. The book also offers articles from other pioneers in this field, and explores the rich potential photography and film hold for design research, including the newest technologies.
This article, published on Medium, explores STBY’s approach to enabling empathic conversations in our design research, between researchers and participants and among the wider client and design teams. Using a case study of a recent project exploring patient support networks, we look at the important roles continual contact, engaging interview materials, and visually capturing and communicating play in enabling empathic conversations, that can generate rich, in-depth insights for design. The full article is available as a PDF here, and as an article on Medium here.