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An Ethnographic Approach to Implementing Principles of Human-centered Design in Our Product Development

At Fuji Xerox, we aim to apply the principles of human-centered design to our product development process. For this purpose, we work on understanding people's characteristics and their essential needs regarding their living/working environment and equipment by empathizing with them, and we reflect this understanding in our design.
People utilize the various equipment and information existing in their environment as resources for their activity. At the same time, the ways in which they utilize this equipment and information change flexibly depending on the situation. Therefore, problems that were unforeseen by designers may occur when a product or service is used in an actual environment where users are living or working. At the same time, users may discover that a product or service has a potential ability or use that goes beyond the original intentions of the design. In order to apply human-centered design principles to our product development, we need to learn what users actually do, as well as the context for what they do, and thus understand their potential challenges and needs underlying their behavior. In this way, we can find the potential business opportunities in users' practices.
With this perspective, Fuji Xerox has incorporated an ethnographic approachNote1 into its design process. In this process, we find the underlying messages of users by interviewing them and observing their everyday lives and workplaces, and we then visualize future experiences by creating prototypes of a product or service. The following is an overview of this design process.

A Design Process Involving Observation and Prototyping

First, we observe users and their behavior, as well as interview them. Next, we isolate the underlying messages behind what they say and do and develop insights into the essence of these messages to form a hypothesis on the ideal form of the users' activity and experiences. Then, we consider specific means of embodying the ideal form, building a concrete image of a product or service by creating prototypes that simulate the interface between the product or service and users. In the actual design process, we uncover insights into users' behavior and create concrete design ideas for the product or service by repeatedly cycling through the process, going back and forth between the actual world and the conceptual world.

Step 1  Workplace observation and interviews

We observe the behavior of users and interview them in their living/working environment. Employing an ethnographic approach, we observe what the users actually do. Through these observations and interviews, we discover the context of users' activity and their unconscious behavior together with the users.

Step 2  Sharing stories and eliciting messages

Based on the records of our observations and interviews, we share the facts and findings we have gained with other members of the design team. Capturing the viewpoint of the users, we are able to understand the big picture of their activity, as well as how they interact with people, equipment, and information, and the kinds of rules and ideas underlying their behavior. Then, we isolate the unconscious messages of the users.

Step 3  Uncovering insights

We compare, classify, and integrate the messages found through our observations and interviews in order to refine those messages into more essential ones. Thus, we learn the implicit rules and values underlying users' behavior, discovering their latent needs and finding potential business opportunities.

Step 4  Considering the ideal form

We consider the ideal conditions for the users, namely, the ideal form. In this step, rather than trying to consider specific means of achieving the ideal form, we discuss what kinds of activity or experiences are important for the users and make those our design goals.

Step 5  Considering specific means

We consider ideas for specific means of achieving the ideal form. We improvise simple mock-ups using familiar materials such as paper. By doing role-play using these mock-ups, we are able to visualize images of future user activity and then evaluate those images and mock-ups.

Step 6  Prototyping

With a focus on simulating the interface with users, we create prototypes of a level that allows users to experience the value of the product or service. By giving a concrete form to the key elements of a new experience or value without spending much time on the prototype, we can experience the effectiveness and value of the design and evaluate it while adding modifications flexibly.