Webreakstuff blog

Successful products through observation

Back in June I wrote an article on designing web applications through ethnography – by seeing real people in the real world, engaged in actual activities and solving real problems. That post got quite a lot feedback both in comments as well as emails, so I thought an update was due with examples of how other companies use ethnography in their experience designs.

Lets recap what ethnography means and what it allows first – and then look at examples of how it is being used by large organizations like Nokia, Intel and IBM.

From the June article: Ethnography – a method to look at user needs through observing people in their naturally setting rather than through research or, like we usually see in this space, guessing work. Ethnography allows you to design (in the broad sense of the word) products that are more in touch with your audience – to solve real problems, and not those you think people have.

Ethnography at Nokia

Business Week has the inside view on how Nokia uses ethnography to deliver richer products that solve real needs. Here’s what Nokia’s Design Director Antti Kujala has to say about their method:

Our process starts with a team of anthropologists and psychologists working in our design group. They spend time with specific types of people around the world to understand how they behave and communicate. This helps us to understand better and to spot early signals of new patterns of behavior that could be harnessed into mobile communication. Our designers often go out into the field to understand the world they are designing for. All of these observations are brought into the design process to inspire and inform our ideas.

We have an advanced design team that is looking 5 to 15 years out, working on spotting and predicting megatrends in society and coming up with thought-provoking ideas on what mobile design could do to influence and react to these.

Ethnography at Intel and IBM

Hemispheres Magazine (from United Airlines) has also a very good article on how corporations like Intel and IBM use ethnography to look ahead and enter (or create) markets ahead of competition. Make sure you read this article as well.

In addition to helping with the development of products, ethnography also can be used to direct corporate strategy, says Ken Anderson of the people and practices research group at Intel Corporation. Anderson oversees the innovation team within the digital health group at Intel. “It’s not about developing a particular product, but opening a space that had been untapped,” he says.

Inspired? Act on it.

Ethnography isn’t just for huge market cap corporations – it can and should be used in any product-oriented or service-oriented business. Chances are if you are reading this blog, you are either an entrepreneur or someone who’s passionate about the web and design. You should be acting upon these examples.

How can observation help you launch a successful product or service? What would do you differently if you looked at your target audience more deeply? Quite a lot, most likely. Here’s how you get started if you don’t have the budget or a product: carry a notebook, note down problems you have in your daily life, or problems you see other people have. You’ll likely come across solutions to these problems, and you know what that means.

Like our project management product (Goplan) came out of our necessities and problems dealing with the people we do consulting for – and by looking at how people manage their projects poorly -, you’ll likely succeed in solving real problems if you just sit down, observe and listen.

1 comment
  1. [...] Successful products through observation Why simply watching ourselves and our customers is valid too. [...]

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