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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Rodriguez

How Conduct a User Experience Ethnography

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Ethnography is an under-utilized and time-consuming research method used in UX research to understand the behavior and attitudes of users in their natural environment. Ethnography involves observing users in their natural setting, such as their home or workplace, and gathering information about their experiences, behaviors, and cultural context.




Here's an example of a UX researcher conducting an in-field ethnography:


A UX researcher is working for a company that produces a smartwatch. The researcher wants to understand how people use smartwatches in their daily lives to inform the design of a new smartwatch. The researcher decides to conduct an in-field ethnography to observe smartwatch users in their natural environment.

The researcher first identifies a target user group, such as fitness enthusiasts who use smartwatches to track their workouts. The researcher then recruits participants from this group and schedules a time to observe them in the field.

The researcher spends several days with the participants, observing them in various settings such as the gym, at home, and at work. During these observations, the researcher takes notes on the participants' behavior, such as how they use the smartwatch, what features they use most frequently, and any challenges they encounter.

The researcher also conducts contextual inquiry interviews with the participants to gain insights into their attitudes and motivations related to smartwatch use. The interviews provide additional context to the observations and help the researcher understand why users behave in certain ways.

After the in-field ethnography, the researcher analyzes the data collected during the observations and interviews to identify patterns and themes. The researcher uses these insights to inform the design of a new smartwatch that is tailored to the needs and preferences of the target user group.




In UX research, ethnography helps researchers understand how users interact with technology in their everyday lives. Ethnographic research typically involves the following steps:


Defining Research Objectives: The first step in conducting an ethnographic study is to define the research objectives. This involves identifying the research questions that need to be answered, the user group to be studied, and the context in which the research will be conducted.


Selecting Participants: The next step is to select participants for the study. Participants should be accurately representative of the user group being studied and should be selected based on certain criteria, such as age, gender, profession, and/or lifestyle.


Conducting Observations: Once the participants have been selected, the researcher observes them in their natural environment. This involves spending time with participants, observing their behavior, and taking notes on their activities.


Conducting Interviews: Ethnographic research often involves conducting contextual inquiry-style interviews with participants. Interviews can be conducted during or after the observation phase and can provide valuable insights into the user's attitudes, motivations, and behaviors.


Analyzing Data: Finally, the researcher analyzes the data collected during the observation and interview phases. This involves identifying patterns and themes in the data and drawing conclusions about the user's behavior and attitudes.


Overall, ethnography is a powerful research method for UX designers to gain deep insights into user behavior and attitudes. It helps designers understand the user's context and design products that are tailored to their needs and preferences.

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