Ethnographic Studies in Product Design

Course Description:

This is an introduction to ethnographic studies in product design. The class is half lecture/discussion and half hands-on ethnographic fieldwork at off-site museums. The students will learn the basic tools for usability data gathering and analysis. All students will be expected to complete a final project based on their fieldwork: presenting data, data interpretation, and final recommendations. The final student work product will be shared with the decision-makers at the museums. Students may choose to work in groups.

The class will serve as an introduction to ethnographic studies and usability analysis in product and space design. Students will learn about and use basic ethnographic methods. The first half of the class, students will engage with the material through lectures, discussions, and show-and-tell presentations. The second half of the class, students will collect data off-site, doing actual observation of users during their interaction with a museum exhibit. Students will use the data to clarify the conceptual, interaction, and interface designs of product and spaces. Working in groups or alone, students will generate a basic product design document using the information learned in class and the data collected in the field.

Students have to provide their own transportation to the off-site research destinations: Exploratorium and The Legion of Honor Museums (provisional sites).

Intended Audience:

This course is intended for adult students and professionals engaged in product design as part of their academic or work lives, as well as individuals interested in hands-on usability experience and analysis of data, and museum product, space, and exhibit design.


Margaret LeCompte’s “Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research”