Today’s ethnography is based almost entirely on observation.When we're working with a client to create a software solution, our business strategy team uses forms of ethnography to help us uncover truths about user behavior.
We can then convert that data into infographics to visually explain what we discover and pass that on to our development team. This way, when our team is working on a project, they're designing something that works for what's "real."
Most of the time, when we suggest this approach for projects, clients give us that deer-in-the-headlights stare. Essentially, this sort of study helps us design solutions for how users actually behave on a site, rather than how we think they do, or how they claim to. Actually looking into user behavior helps create a better understanding what that user will need, and in the end it results in a better product.
As an example, here's a comparison of how our team actually behaves when it comes to refilling our coffeepot, compared to how they say they behave.
Malinowski's book about cultural anthropology describes an observer 'living among the people who are the subject of the study for a period of time, learning and participating in everyday life while striving to maintain a degree of objective detachment."
So here is a sample I based on my own 5 year study where I was “participating in everyday life while striving to maintain a degree of objective detachment.” I have reduced my not-so-serious findings to this infographic that depicts the behavior of our office culture:
Okay, so my research may not be entirely scientific, but I think the point still stands. If you base an entire process based on assumptions of behavior, at some point the caffeine is going to run out.