Design Ethnography

For the past couple of weeks we’ve had a masterclass in Design Ethnography by Kate Saunderson based on the Busy Families – Busy Cities research carried out by the Masters of Design Ethnography at Dundee, in collaboration with NCR.


Design Ethnography is usually conducted to gain a deep understanding of the people you are designing for. In other words, people are central to your design process so that your idea is better suited to their needs. In the case of Busy Families – Busy Cities we looked at how busy families in New York, Paris and Shanghai cope with the problems they face when trying to prioritise their time to make space for shopping and quality time with the family.


After reading through the research and brainstorming as a group we came up with 5 insights:

  1. Nannies in New York don’t get many opportunities to communicate crucial information about the children with parents since the nanny leaves when the parents return home from work. How can we help create a stronger line of communication between the nanny and the parents?
  2. Busy families in New York like to save money on their shopping through the use of coupons. How can we help keep people up to date on the latest offers and remind them of coupons they already have?
  3. Busy families in New York see the quality of produce as being more important than the price. How can we keep families more informed about where quality produce is being stocked near them?
  4. Busy families in Paris like to use online deliveries to save time. How can we help families find online delivery slots that fit into their busy schedules?
  5. In Shanghai, it’s common for the grandparents to look after and feed the children, while the parents work and collect groceries. How can we help parents in Shanghai have more time to spend with their children?

Based on those insights we went on to brainstorm and develop ideas. As a group we felt the coupons had potential which got us thinking about sites such as groupon, itison and wowcher. Or, if you want to talk about grocery shopping, online clubcards and nectar points are becoming increasingly more common. Of course these sites might not exist in New York but if we use this as an example, we know that people collect vouchers and money off coupons on these sites but often forget to use them or simply don’t find the time.


Our idea is for a countdown clock which would display the days, hours and minutes left until your next coupon expires! We feel this would allow people to make the most of their money and the countdown would build anticipation, giving them something to look forward to.

Of course, the idea is still quite weak and would need development but as an exercise it helped us to understand and practice design ethnography. And I believe that this idea might just have potential.


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