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Some In-context techniques. “Anthropology never has had a distinct subject matter, and because it doesn't have a real method, there's a great deal of anxiety over what it is.” -- Clifford Geertz . E thnography is about storytelling as much as interpreting. .

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some in context techniques
Some In-context techniques

“Anthropology never has had a distinct subject matter, and because it doesn't have a real method, there's a great deal of anxiety over what it is.”

--Clifford Geertz

e thnography is about storytelling as much as interpreting
Ethnography is about storytelling as much as interpreting.

“I learned much more about acting from philosophy courses, psychology courses, history and anthropology than I ever learned in acting class.”

--Tim Robbins

In the academic world, this work is generally the focus of cultural anthropologists. In the business world, “fieldwork” is conducted by all kinds of individuals who share a driving interest in people and their motivations.

It is not for just anyone, however: a willingness to observe users’ environments with an eye for even seemingly random detail, and a passion for understanding why people behave and interact as they do, is required.

Sociologists, product designers and IA’s, psychologists—even actors!– often make for good ethnographers.

to get the story study the people where they are
To get the story, study the people where they are
  • A number of techniques – video ethnography, in-store intercepts, shadowing – enable us to study how people interact in complex environments.
  • The selection of technique is largely in the end bound by considerations of cost and time. It helps to make these decisions by having available a palette of complementary tools and techniques to discuss.

“Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one

must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder

that which one would not have been able to guess.”

--Margaret Mead

in context interviews
In-Context Interviews

Conducted where targeted audience typically performs the activities of interest or interacts with the relevant products or services.

Protocol [inclusive list of questions to be asked, time estimates, goals, tools required] often also includes interactive exercises.


Time spent in participants’ own contexts of use.

Relies on environment instead of memory.

Uncover richness of detail and key nuances.


Sessions are time-consuming for the interviewer and can be challenging to recruit.

A catch-22; the more depth of data collected, the more time required to analyze it.

guerrilla intercepts
“Guerrilla” Intercepts

Often done in-stores or on the street. Participant asked to respond to short list of questions (5-15 minutes), and is immediately compensated, either with small merchandise incentive or cash.

Intercepts can be done either pre- or post- an observation.


Spurs questioning about experiences, in the context in which they occur.

Spontaneous feedback, right while users are mid-interaction.

Lots of quick exchanges in a brief time.


Hard to “screen” for demographic or behavioral balance.

Requires a certain amount of sang-froid by the researcher.


(Individual and Community-based)

Can be done as a portion of an individual’s in-context event, or conducted more broadly as an overview of a shared space.

Protocol is tailored to include cues to watch for, for the observers.


Ideal for the tracking of such things as traffic patterns, timing of tasks, non-verbal behaviors.

Distance from interviewer allows self-consciousness to subside.


Lack of interaction allows for potential misunderstanding of what is observed.

To ensure against outliers, multiple passes at the same location or behavior are required.

web adventure
Web Adventure

Studying a participant’s arrangement and use of on-line tools to accomplish tasks; can include interrogations of bookmarks, apps, software selections, on user’s own devices.

The web adventure can also be used to frame a user assessment of competitors’ sites.


Positions participant as expert.

Can stimulate conversations around unexpected other practices and behaviors developed as work-arounds.


Can be so random as to lose relevance.

Can enter grey area not distinct enough from rigorous usability test.

case study

Case study

Studying toothbrush and toothpaste purchasing reveals the importance of gesture

we thought it was about branding
We thought it was about branding…

Team:2 researchers, 1 project manager, 1 designer

Market: Atlanta

Objective: Understand the toothbrush and toothpaste shopping experiences, in order to discover how to carry over (strong) toothpaste attributes to the (weaker) toothbrush category.

Techniques: Shadowing and guerrilla interviews (4 days, 3 stores)

but it was all about language
…but it was all about language

“I need two whole different toothbrushes! A regular one, and then one meant for babies, to get back here-- what do you call that?--behind my bridgework. ”

case study1

Case study

Trying to understand “performance” vehicles leads to… understanding trash management

we thought it was about speed
We thought it was about speed…

Team: 6 researchers, 1 project manager

Markets: Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Raleigh

Objective: Understand how drivers of varying vehicle platforms feel about “performance”.

Techniques: Shadowing drive-alongs, video diaries, in-home ethnos and visual stories (48 participants)

but it was all about trash bins
…but it was all about trash bins

“You’d think they’d come up with something better than what I had to invent myself! ”


“You guys are like anthropologists!”

--current client, last Thursday night