Interesting writeup by Mike Kuniavsky over at Orange Cone.

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.

We in the design business have bastardized the term ethnography (though I doubt there is much sleep being lost in the academic communities). Still, Quantitative Ethnography is–practically speaking–an oxymoron. I’m comfortable with phrases like ethnographic approach or technique as the furthest stretch of usage. On the other hand, comparing design research to an ethnography is silly. Throw in quantitative and your clients ought to be wondering!