Ethnography is inspiration

A couple of years ago I attended a really fun conference in Whistler, BC about the impact of technology on business and culture. One of the talks really resonated with me and is still pretty fresh in my mind even though I forget who delivered it. The speaker shared how people use ethnographic research to learn, validate, and test but what he figured out was that it could also be used to find inspiration too.

He kept repeating the phrase “ethnography is inspiration” throughout his talk, and that’s probably why I still remember it today, but then he went on to describe some examples of how he came up with new ideas while talking to customers and conducting user studies. I have since experienced this for myself a couple times, which is maybe another reason why I remember the talk, and wanted to share one of my most recent moments of inspiration.

People use ethnographic research to learn, validate, and test but it could also be used to find inspiration too.

I was in the process of doing what’s called a ”support rotation” for my job at Automattic. It’s something we do every year where we take a week to join our support organization to connect with our customers by email, live chat, video, and even in person. A couple days into my rotation, I joined a video call and had one of those very special moments. We were talking with one of our customers as she walked us through some of the challenges she was running into with our newly launched editor called Gutenberg.

Seeing her walk through our support documentation, and then working in the product, sparked something that got me thinking about different ways of approaching a problem our team has been wrestling with. I immediately jotted down some notes, sketched up some diagrams, and shared my thoughts. It also brought up some interesting questions that I don’t think anyone is thinking about on our end.

The inspiration didn’t end there though, through my rotation I also got to observe the way my Happiness colleagues work. Some of it was first hand by using the tools and resources they use. Some of it was through conversations I had with them before and after some of our calls. These encounters lead me to identify a handful of process and documentation improvements that would have never otherwise been brought up.

Looking back, I feel really lucky that I had the opportunity to participate in this support rotation. For one, it was a nice break from the everyday hustle and bustle but more importantly it felt really good connecting with our customers, learning more about our product, and being inspired though the practice of observing other people work.

By Filippo Di Trapani

Filippo is a designer based out of Ottawa, Canada. He’s a loving husband, father of 3, and an avid music lover.