Design ethnography in capstone design: Investigating student use and perceptions

study purpose

While industry has increased its use of ethnographic techniques for studying stakeholders and the context of use for products, little research has been done on how students learn to use design ethnography and develop this skill set. The goal of this study was to develop a thorough understanding of how students currently perform aspects of design ethnography and how they subsequently incorporate the information gathered into their design processes.


A qualitative, exploratory approach was used focusing on semi-structured interviews with a small set of design teams. This allowed for themes related to student use of ethnographic techniques to be uncovered that were not evident a priori.

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In our analysis, we found many uses of ethnographic techniques by students throughout the design process. However, the most use came during front-end phases of problem definition and refinement. Students also distinct patterns when they saw stakeholder engagement as a benefit or as a barrier to making decisions. Below are the major patterns associated with student use of ethnographic techniques.

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