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Methods – Video Ethnography

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What it is:

Videoing everyday events as they happen in context to capture people’s interaction with one another and the environment around them. This method enables design teams to analyse tasks and gain deeper insights through repeated viewing.






Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High


Video-based evidence and insights on user behaviour

Best suited to:



Early to mid stages of the design process

Gathering contextual insights in the exploratory phase of the design process

Assessing the effectiveness of new prototypes in the development stages of the design process



Type of interaction:


Goes well with:

Observation & Shadowing, Interview, Day in the Life, User Diaries

What designers say

‘…The real value in videos is that they allow you to view recordings over and over, each time analysing and discovering new things…’ Maja Kecman


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On a Plate: making food packaging easier to use

Designer Katherine Gough used video ethnography to track how four UK households interact with food packaging. The results of this observational research informed the development of a design tool for use by packaging designers.

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Hair Removal Products

Design group Factory used video ethnography when examining how women hair removal products could be improved. Video analysis of user interactions with a waxing product identified key failings, which had been overlooked using other research techniques.

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Background and further reading

Video ethnography is an extension of the academic discipline of ethnography, a form of research focusing on the sociology of meaning through close field observation of socio-cultural phenomena. As Don Norman (1999) expresses, ‘…Even research such as ethnographic studies which are by their nature lengthy may be streamlined. The basic principles of the technique are retained, while new methods of estimation speed up the process.’

Norman called this ‘rapid ethnography’ which ‘is critical to the invention of new classes of products and can accelerate the evolution of young, hard-to-use technologies into mature, well understood ones.’ Françoise Brun-Cottan (1999) describes an alternative function of video ethnography as a stable reference base that can be used for co-design processes.

Katherine Carroll, K., Ledema, R. & Kerridge, R. (2008)Reshaping ICU Ward Round Practices Using Video-Reflexive Ethnography’ in

Qualitative Health Research 2008; 18; pp 381-391

This paper details the use of video ethnography to understand communication between medics in healthcare settings to understand the complexity in their practices.

Wassan, C. (2000) ‘Ethnography in the field of design’ in Human Organisation Vol 59 No 4.pp 377-388

This paper describes the use of video ethnography to understand people’s interactions with products.