From the book Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research:
The cultural analytic research paradigm is, importantly, not one of objective distance [...] but rather one of inextricable involvement in the process of discovery, knowing and understanding. Thus, the process of cultural analysis must be one of constantly questioning presuppositions – examining the role of our own assumptions and points of view and interrogating what we think we know and why we think we know it.
From the perspective of a user experience designer this sort of intentional vagueness is important but also challenging. Important, in that we are not the users and our clients and project stakeholders are not the audience. Occassionally clients will be intimately familiar with the ‘world’ in which their customers and users live but more often than not clients are out of touch.
Looking from the outside in we risk missing not-so-obvious clues and unvoiced information about how a given set of consumers within a micro–, macro– or meso–social profile view the world and how we can expect they might interface with the artefact or service we are designing.
Whilst you and I might speak the same language in some ways we don’t. In some cases the mismatches in shared understanding between the designer, the client and consumers can lead to all kinds of confusion that can be hard to dissect and resolve especially when everyone is using the same words.
What is a gift or the practice of gifting? What is wealth? What does ‘friend’ mean? What is rude or offensive? What does it mean to be a ‘hard’ worker? What is acceptable and what isn’t? How does one demonstrate trustworthiness in one culture and could that same behaviour have the opposite effect in another context? How can you describe an organisational or team’s culture to an outsider? These are not questions that can be answered through a mass distributed survey or even the popular focus group.
These are basic questions about meaning that we might otherwise barge in with our own pre-conceived notions not even considering that we might be making a serious mistake that can put an entire market offside.
These explorations of semantics within a social group will not only lead us to using the correct vocabulary but a more fundamental understanding of as markets are:
… constituted by systems of interwoven meanings and practices that may or may not have resonance for a product, brand or experience.
Further reading: My article Ethnography in UX published on UXmatters.
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