How is it possible that a conversation between two people as far away as Sydney and Seattle felt like a fireside chat? Gerry Scullion is such a great host and skilled conversationalist that it felt that way to me. Listen over at This is HCD and hear how Ethnographic Thinking can expand the strategic value of Human Centered Design.

On ethnographic thinking in the development / innovation process:

“…Many designers are incredibly skilled at asking why at the front end of the design process but eventually feel compelled to drive towards a ‘what’. They’re trying to get toward that solution or that thing or that collection of things. Whereas I think ethnographers are by nature, or disposition, much more comfortable opening questions up, because that’s what they do all the time, right? They’re always asking why; you know they ask those types of questions all the time. I don’t see them as necessarily opposed. I just think it’s worth considering that there are different trajectories and that there is that history in which ethnography has been positioned as only a tool for design versus something that can be used as a means of opening up the process. If you understand Ethnographic Thinking and it’s value in this way, it makes sense that that it should be engaged throughout the design process, not just in the beginning ‘explore’ phase…”

On ethnographic thinking and sense-making:

“…One example of this can be seen in the contrast between synthesis and analysis. In the case of synthesis (a term more aligned with design practice) the process is often seen as a narrowing one that is aimed solely at a singular design solution. Whereas analysis (a term more aligned with ethnographic practice) implies a more open approach; that there are dynamics to consider that may mean your outcome doesn’t necessarily need to be a solution point at all. Instead, it may be ten points, or your solution may be a ‘swirl,’ or a ‘grid,’ for that matter. These opportunities for diverse outcomes can only happen if you’re willing to continually ask why and open up the process in parallel to efforts to reach a design solution.”

On ethnographic thinking as means of understanding cultural fit of a company’s offering:

“You also start to see the value that the ethnographer’s insider/outsider status brings to the table in ways that allow a team to incorporate the broader cultural dynamics at play between the customer, the company, and its offering in ways that expose new and unexpected opportunities. This can be seen as the strategic value of Ethnographic Thinking and the value it provides organizations in the ways it informs questions of ‘how’: How are we going to expand market share? How are we going to better understand consumer behavior in this respect? Or how can we introduce a new product in, say, Egypt? All those things are more than just visiting living rooms. They’re about developing the strategic insights that lead to culturally-appropriate strategic decisions that ultimately have real market impact.”