The Ethnographic Interview

Pre-Conference Workshop

Pre-conference workshops are an additional cost. You can register for this workshop and other workshops when you register for the conference. Register online.

About the Workshop

The term “ethnography” is often used by IA and UX researchers. Unfortunately the label is often misapplied to mean any form of qualitative research. This workshop is meant to train IAs and UX practitioners in one specific ethnographic technique developed by James P. Spradley and first published in 1979 in the book The Ethnographic Interview.

Spradley developed a set of steps and techniques that are easy to learn, and can be mastered with a little practice. The key to his method is to eliminate the effects of “translation competence” where the informant being interviewed tends to talk about his or her own knowledge in terms the interviewer might understand rather than the terms that would be a natural part of his or her culture. His technique is especially relevant to IAs as it comes from the school of Linguistic Anthropology, and uses taxonomy construction as a primary tool to understand the culture of study participants. In an IA/UX context this technique can be used to inform navigation design, content strategy, mental models, personas, user stories, and just about any other deliverable that requires an insiders’ view of the users and their context.

The workshop will have three parts. First, there will be an introduction to the ethnographic process and Spradley’s interview techniques. That will be followed by practice interviews where the workshop participants will take turns interviewing each other using Spradley’s method. The final section of the workshop will take the results of the interviews and work through the final few steps of the process to demonstrate their application to IA and UX user research methods. The first and last sections of the workshop will draw on real-world examples of Spradley’s technique at work in both user research and traditional anthropological applications.