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Ethnography is Up!

28 December

Kitchen-Stories-2003_408x270This movie, “Kitchen Stories” is based on a true story about a large-scale ethnography conducted in the 1940’s in Sweden. It illustrates with adorable humor what happens when ethnography is used in the wrong way, even if for the right reason. And it’s about humans. You can rent it on Amazon for less than the cost of a latte at your local caffeinery.


Ethnographic studies have grown in popularity in recent years in the market research industry. Why? Perhaps because some have become disenchanted with focus groups due to their misuse. Also, market research is susceptible to trends. I don’t dispute that the focus group has seen its share of misuse by hacks. But I’m noticing that ethnography is also poorly understood by some. There is something almost sexy about voyeuristically walking inside someone else’s shoes. Seeing the world through their eyes.

Here’s the thing: there are research questions for which ethnography is absolutely the best method. For example, ethnography is ideal when you need to understand the whole of people’s experience as it relates to your product, brand, service or design. But there are also situations where choosing ethnography as the method is a bad idea. For example, ethnography would be a bad choice if you are researching a very specific thing such as marketing communications, or new concept testing.

Ditching focus groups in favor of ethnography because the method is popular is irrational. These are tools not styles. And they are not the only two tools in the kit. Imagine if carpenters were susceptible to trends about their tools. What if suddenly hammers were out of fashion and saws were all the rage? You would see some poorly built houses.

You can also contact us if you have questions about which method is best for what you need to learn. We have deep expertise in matching the method to the question.

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