Ethnographic Research: An Overview In 4 Easy Points


Ethnographic research is the method of studying and observing a group or society for a longer period to learn about them. The aim is to study a particular community or organization and observe their attitude and behavior patterns. Ethnography in design helps the designer to have a detailed understanding of the design problem and create a better solution for prospective users. The anthropology strategy of understanding the human through the historical, archaeological, cultural and linguistic background also makes use of ethnographic study. However, the ethnographic study is broadly used in many other aspects of the social environment also.

In this article let us look at:

  1. Aim of Ethnographic Research
  2. Analysis of Ethnographic Research
  3. Advantages of Ethnographic Research
  4. Disadvantages of Ethnographic Research

1.Aim of Ethnographic Research

The aim of ethnographic research is to have a maximum and deep understanding of the subject for which the design is to be created. The researchers follow the “live and work” approach, which means that they live in the subject environment to interact with the users and know their preferences and build a design solution accordingly. The basic objective of ethnography is to see how the group of people interact with things in the real world and then work on the basis of insights gained in this exercise. 

2. Analysis of Ethnographic Research

The analysis of data generated through ethnographic research is done through a process that involves forming theory based on observations and then applying it to test and refine further data. Thus it enables the collection of data and its analysis at the same time. Ethnography is a detailed methodology useful for gathering huge data about a subject and building a roadmap for providing the users with the most accurate and optimum solution to the problem. The analysis of ethnographic data depends on the purpose of its research. Analysis of ethnographic data helps to arrive at objective findings. The inductive analysis is required to come up with an explanation for certain habits of the research group.

Ethnographic research is a qualitative research that provides an in-depth understanding of the subject or problem; hence it is more beneficial if conducted at the initial stages of a project, as it will help in taking appropriate actions for the prospective designs. Individual methods of ethnographic research include participant observations, interviews and survey.

The complex design problems must be addressed by using ethnographic study at the initial stages to obtain an early understanding of the relevant process, participants, goals and conditions; however, an existing system can also be evaluated using ethnographic study. For systems and projects which are highly critical ethnographic research shall be applied. For example, the systems used in banks for digital transactions had evolved over the years and making changes in it is a critical process for which ethnographic research should be used.

3. Advantages of Ethnographic Research

  • The main advantage of this research is that it is a pro-active approach that helps identify the potential risks and issues before deciding the future course of action. Thus the risks can be mitigated, and the unexpected issues can be analysed for developing a good design or solution.  
  • The other advantage is that it gives a detailed knowledge of the user’s behaviour pattern, attitude and preferences as the researchers observe the participants in the natural environment.
  • An ethnographic interview is one of the methods of ethnographic research, which is a two-way process that helps the researcher to obtain the most authentic, relevant and detailed information from the members of the research group by directly interacting with them.

4. Disadvantages of Ethnographic Research

  • This research is time-consuming. The generation of data and its analysis both take a longer period of time.
  • If the research is conducted by using the archival method of research in which the ethnographer uses the archived research data instead of directly interacting with the subject, the findings may not be accurate as there may be biases when the data is recorded.
  • The other risk associated with ethnographic research is that the behaviour of the subject can be affected due to the presence of the researcher, thus affecting the correctness and authenticity of the result.


Thus ethnographic research is suitable for gaining detailed and exhaustive knowledge about a project or design which involves a high degree of criticality and complexity. The results of this research can be more accurate if the participants of the subject are honest and are not influenced by the presence of the researcher. The ethnographic researcher is responsible for collecting and analysing the data, and therefore it is necessary that the researcher shall be selected considering his past involvement in such projects.

The designs and projects developed after conducting ethnographic research are likely to be more accurate as the research mitigates the risk related to unexpected issues to a greater extent. The method of ethnographic research, the purpose and the researcher, are the vital factors for the success of this research.

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