Ethnographic Studies Training 

Ethnographic studies (also commonly known as "field studies" and "contextual inquiries") are the best way to learn about your customers' goals and needs. Visiting people in their own environment can help you learn very different kinds of information from that collected in usability labs or other methods.

Despite the unique insights gained from field studies, few organizations take advantage of this technique -- usually due to some combination of the following: 

  • Lack of understanding of the importance of this technique
  • Uncertainty about how to plan and conduct a field study 
  • Misconceptions that it will be too time-consuming or expensive
  • Difficulty in interpreting the piles of data collected

This tutorial will help overcome these barriers, using lectures and exercises that lead participants through field study process. After attending this training, participants will be able to conduct their own successful field studies.

This course combines lecture, exercises, and discussion. The optimal class size is between 10 and 30, but this training can be structured to accommodate any number of participants. 

The material can be presented as a one-day event or a two-day event. The seminar outline and the essential content will be the same, but the longer format allows for more detail and more hands-on exercises.

Field Studies Training Overview

  • Why do field studies?
    • Identifying and prioritizing user needs
    • Revealing what you don't know about your users' problems
    • Benefits of developing user profiles
  • How to add field studies to your development cycle
    • Scheduling them for maximum impact
    • Using the data in conjunction with other usability methods
  • Preparing for field studies
    • Developing goals for the research
    • Identifying the people you want to visit
    • Scheduling users and setting expectations correctly
    • Training people going on the visits to be good observers
    • Identifying what tools you'll use to capture data
    • Assigning roles to observers
  • Conducting field studies
    • Introducing the team and relaxing the user
    • Observing without interfering
    • Capturing data on the visit
    • Debriefing the user
    • Debriefing with the other observers
  • Analyzing the Data
    • Getting the team familiar with the whole body of data captured
    • Culling the data for what matters most
    • Capturing the big picture findings
    • Relating the findings to your business goals and strategies
  • Presenting your results for maximum impact
    • Innovative presentation ideas
    • Including the whole team in ownership of the data
    • Ensuring broad distribution of the data
  • Establishing a Field Studies Program
    • Championing the cause
    • Incorporating field studies into the development cycle
    • Rewarding observers for participating

This workshop is intended for people who have conducted few or no field studies, or who have tried conducting field studies but were less successful than they would like to be. Participation is not limited to usability specialists; rather, product managers, developers, designers, marketers, content writers, and managers can benefit as well. 


Kara Pernice

Kara Pernice is the Managing Director at Nielsen Norman Group. Pernice uniquely combines her 20-plus years of research knowledge with her design experience and business education to help organizations derive interfaces which are usable, useful, and surpass business goals. Pernice is accomplished at evaluating any design situation to determine or craft the most fitting research method, conduct or lead the research, observe and analyze user behavior, and convert this analysis into outstanding design. Pernice has led hundreds of intercontinental research studies, and is expert in many usability methods. Read more about Kara.