Ambiguating the terminology: Quantitative Ethnographics

Continuing my project of observing how terminology shifts to describe the process of researching and designing the user experience of ubiquitous computing, I noticed a blurb in the latest issue of the IDSA's "design perspectives" newsletter. In it, they note a new service launched by RAHN, Inc., which RAHN calls "Quantitative Ethnographics (QE)." They claim this "integrates performance metrics into the analysis and illustrates innovation's positive impact on a prospective client's customer."

Apart from the error of assuming a "positive impact" before starting research, it's interesting to me how RAHN seems to be using the current vogue for the use of "ethnographics" as a term to describe user research, but modifying it by using the language of measurement (presumably because numbers and figures look better in client reports). Measurement--and the "finding of an average" that it implies--is kind of the opposite of the goal of traditional ethnography, which aims to describe culture in its complexity. That doesn't actually seem to be the point anymore. "Ethnographics" has come to mean "we go onsite and look at people." It has ceased to have the meaning it once had as an anthropological practice, and has been repurposed by the design community.

Is this is a good thing? I don't know, but it's a thing.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on February 19, 2007 11:00 AM.

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