Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ethnographic Design Research – how long does the project take

🙂 Here is an extract from a conversation between Don Norman and David Sless on the listserve group Phd Design:

David asks:

“I wonder how many design researchers it takes to change a light bulb?”

That’s not the right question because, of course design researchers don’t
change bulbs: they do studies and write reports. However, they could write
an excellent report on the issues surrounding the changing of a bulb, its
social impact and the implications for world health, poverty,
and global tensions, especially if the actual job were outsourced to India.
If you wished to understand the implications if
terrorist organizations were to infiltrate the light bulb changing process,
then we would need to do a different study and a series of reports.

The proper method would be to compose a multi-disciplinary team of
ethnographers, graphic, communication, and industrial designers, at least
one UX designer, and of course an electrical engineer, an electrician, and
someone from marketing and accounting.

Its not just how many: it is how long. To code the videos requires about 3
weeks.  Then, of course, we must ideate  design prototypes,and go through
iterative design cycles.

So I would estimate that we could do the job rather quickly with a small
team: about 10 peoples in three months. Of course, we could do a better job
if we had a few more people and 6 months.

Would you like a cost estimate?


And david then Replies:

Oh dear, Don. As someone who believes in user centred design, the question, even for design researchers, should be: does  the light bulb really want to change, and can we make that an emotionally satisfying experience?

The ethnographic work alone would exhaust the entire budget. And in the end the light bulb might reject the option, realise it is one of the 99%, Occupy a prominent public place, plunge us all in to darkness, and simply not follow our rules.

Users can be so difficult!