The title of this blog post from Bruce Tempkin pretty much says it all: It’s All About Your Customers’ Journey. He laments:

Stanley Marcus, who was president and chairman of the board of Neiman Marcus, was once quoted as saying:

“Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.”

Unfortunately, the normal day-to-day activities inside of companies make it very easy for all employees to forget this critical fact. So, over time, the decisions that companies make end up straying farther and farther away from addressing the actual needs of customers. I often describe this phenomenon by saying that companies are from Venus and customers are from Mars.

Part of the cure is making an explicit map of a customer journey. He makes a call the create customer journey maps (CJMs):

That’s why companies need to use tools and processes that reinforce an understanding of actual customer needs. One of the key tools in this area is something called a customer journey map (also known as a touchpoint map). Used appropriately, these maps can shift a company’s perspective from inside-out to outside-in.

There’s lots of talk these days about shifting a company’s perspective. It’s really a paradigm shift from traditional command-and-control management styles to more customer-oriented perspectives. Bruce isn’t the first to encourage us to think outside in. Tim O’Reilly made this observation 5 years ago.

Of course, Bruce references his own Forrester report on CJMs. Email me directly if you want more information about the report.

Tricia Ryan, an instructional designer at Laureate Higher Education Group, Inc. where she develops courses for Walden University, picked up my Commercial Ethnography presentation from the Euro IA Summit in Amsterdam and used it for a class. Here’s the online synched slideshow of my presentation.

Those of you who know me will recognize that that’s not my voice. Someone at Walden U. wrote and spoke the text in the video above. Kinda weird to see my slides and have someone else talk to them. But, whatever–I’m just happy someone else is interested in the subject.

Lou Rosenfeld and I will be giving a series of workshops in Hamburg, Germany from May 18-20–right after the German IA Konferenz. Find out more and register at UX Workshops.

Here’s a brief overview of the workshops

  • May 18, 2009 – Enterprise Information Architecture – Louis Rosenfeld
    Developing a unified web site or intranet for a large, decentralized organization is the Holy Grail for many of today’s Internet professionals. This day-long seminar is for managers and web professionals who desperately want to tie together content in a rational, user-centered way, regardless of content ownership issues, cultural hurdles, and turf battles.This advanced information architecture seminar combines lecture, demonstration and exercises, discussion, and handouts to address a topic that bewilders every large organization: designing unified information architectures for large enterprises.
  • May 19, 2009 – Commercial Ethnography – James Kalbach
    Ethnographic research methods have many potential advantages for businesses, including helping to increase insight into customer behaviour, make the real world visible the entire organisation and identify opportunities for innovation. In this course, you will learn about practical skills needed to conduct an ethnographic study from beginning to end. The course outline walks through each phase step-by-step.
  • May 20, 2009 – Personas and Mental Models – James Kalbach
    Communicating user research effectively is critical for user-centred design. This full-day course has two parts that show how to bring your research to life:
    Part 1: Personas – Personas have become a mainstream design tool. There’s even a growing body of literature on the subject, including two full-length books. But there are also misconceptions and misuses of personas in the field.
    Part 2: Mental Models – The term “mental models” means different things to different people. In this workshop, we use the term broadly to refer to any technique used to understand the behavioural, cognitive, and emotional states of users.

The early bird price runs until April 2. There’s limited place for each of the workshops.

Register at

Karen Lindemann from Netflow is the sponsor and producer of the events.

Thanks, Jan (aka The Hot Strudel), for pointing out the recent artcle on ethnography: “Ethnographic Research: A Key to Strategy” by Ken Anderson. He writes:

Corporate ethnography isn’t just for innovation anymore. It’s central to gaining a full understanding of your customers and the business itself.


Unlike traditional market researchers, who ask specific, highly practical questions, anthropological researchers visit consumers in their homes or offices to observe and listen in a nondirected way. Our goal is to see people’s behavior on their terms, not ours. While this observational method may appear inefficient, it enlightens us about the context in which customers would use a new product and the meaning that product might hold in their lives.


But people often can’t articulate what they’re looking for in products or services. By understanding how people live, researchers discover otherwise elusive trends that inform the company’s future strategies.

This is a short article centered around ethnography at Intel. According to the author, Intel has perhaps one of the largest corporate ethnography staff in the world. Good for Intel.

This is just another example of a paradigm shift we’re seeing in design and user experience in general: it’s not just about the product or interface anymore. What this means for designers and researchers is that they are now targeting a different set of stakeholders. Instead of talking to product managers and marketing people about the desing of a website, application, or product, we’re now at the table with cor0porate strategists and executives.

It’s about time.

I finally got around to watching and summarizing Dr. Aviva Rosenstein’ presentation “Fake Ethnography vs Real Ethnography“. It’s a good talk. Here are my notes and thoughts on what she has to say.

Aviva at first focuses on what the trendiness and buzz around the word “ethnography.” One example she gives is the Forrester case study on how Wells Fargo used ethnography to innovate its business. But she points out Wells Fargo isn’t really doing ethnography at all. I’m glad she used this example, but I read the same report and though the same thing: it’s not ethnography at all.

She then asks, What does it really mean to do ethnography? Ethnography came from cultural anthropology and ethnology around the turn of 20th century. Ethnographers then spent a long time in the field–sometimes a year. The idea is that you participate with the culture you are studying. Ethnographers talk about becoming a “participant observer.”

This generates a ton of data in the form of field notes. From this, they have to understand the perspective of the culture and then communicate that to others who weren’t there. They make other cultures visible.

Ethnographers aren’t in lab coats watching people in labs. That’s actually the opposite of ethnography. But they’re also not Indian Jones-like, with wild adventures in the field. As design researchers, we don’t have to live up to those myths of grueling field work and suffering. We don’t even have to publish books and have wide recognition as ethnographers. And we can still being doing ethnography.

But how far do you have to go to say you’re doing ethnography? How “other” do the other people you’re looking at have to be? Ethnography is a lot of things: a method, a process, a discipline, a genre of writing. It’s hard to define. Even ethnographers argue amongst themselves as to how far you have to go to be doing ethnography.

So does that mean we’re doing “fake” ethnography? No. Fake ethnography is writing about something that never happened or about something you didn’t observe. In business contexts we may be doing bad ethnography, though. Or at least, perhaps we don’t do deep ethnography.

And there are tons of terms to describe the type of design research methods that resemble ethnography:

  • Contextual inquiry
  • Naturalistic inquiry
  • Field work
  • Site visits
  • Customer visits
  • “Deep hanging out”

and so forth.

But all of these share some of the principles of “true” ethnography: listening and conversing with the people we are studying, and trying to understand them on their own terms.

The goal of ethnography, in general, is to improve human communication. The goal of design ethnography is to gain insight to be able to create a product or service that enhances peoples lives.  It’s about creativity and innovation: building empathy for our users and getting those “come to Jesus” moments for our internal teams. This is different than the goals of academic anthologists, but it shares some of the same principles.

The semantics of the terminology–whether it’s real ethnography or not–doesn’t matter, she says. It’s more about doing good research: collect data, don’t report assumptions, look for patterns, and deliver value to your business. Be brave and be your own hero within your organization with good research.

One thing she gets wrong, I think, is that she at one time limits ethnography in business contexts to studying how people use the products and services we design. I don’t believe this has to be the case. In fact, I make a distinction between product research and user research–ethnography being closer to the latter. These means we can study a narrow target group in a business context to understand what they do and how they act even before we’ve created a product for them. And we can do design ethnography outside of a specific development project.

It’s a good talk. Watch it.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 89 other followers