Is Ethnography Possible without Field Research? Here’s what to do if you can’t visit your target users

Stephanie Rosenbaum


You’ve finally got approval to do B2B field research, and you want to study future customers as well as current ones. But when you try to visit your target users—IT staffers, customer support people, purchasing agents, product managers—their companies won’t allow outsiders to visit. How can you learn about people’s context of work if you can’t observe it?

Many of TecEd’s consulting engagements are field research—but we’ve recently encountered increasing resistance to site visits at businesses, perhaps because of growing sensitivity worldwide to security issues. In response, we have developed a toolkit of methods to glean ethnographic data without visits to business settings. This talk describes our methods and tips for ensuring the voices of customers are heard in—or at least from—their environments, illustrated by examples of ethnographic research with business users.


About the Speaker

Stephanie Rosenbaum is CEO of TecEd, Inc., a UX consultancy whose ethnographic research clients include Google, Cisco Systems, VMware, Varian Medical Systems, Ford Motor Company, and a wide variety of smaller firms. Stephanie is a frequent presenter at UXPA and ACM SIGCHI conferences, received the STC’s Rainey Award for Excellence in Research, and was awarded an IEEE Millennium Medal in 2000. Her research background includes anthropology studies at Columbia University and experimental psychology research for the University of California at Berkeley.