Ethnographic Research Kit

Design Brief

Design an ethnographic research kit to facilitate observation and notetaking as a designer. Using two observation sessions, test the ethnographic research kit and create new iterations based on your findings.

Design Intent

Create an ethnographic research kit for myself that would be easy to print off and use in any research scenario. Ensure I have space and prompts to encourage me to frame my research, draw, take notes, make observations at regular intervals, and reflect on my observations.


Intro to Industrial Design | RISD ID Department | Wintersession 2021

Research Kit Development Process

Initial Observation and Note-Taking in a Public Setting

I visited Fort Wetherill State Park and observed visitors using a beach there. While intending to take freeform notes in a notebook, I did not have my notebook available at the time of observation, and so used my phone and took notes in the notes app.

Using my phone allowed me to quickly take notes and keep track of the time, but my sketching ability was limited and the format was very linear.

Back in my studio, I used my experience at the beach to plan for a prototype of my research kit.

Testing My Prototype

From my sketches, I developed a prototype booklet and tested its effectiveness by observing people in a livestream of Times Square. I was interested to see if the ideas I had developed based on the in-person observation of a relatively quiet, natural location would translate to observing a very busy urban environment in a virtual setting.

The filled out prototype notebook.

Refining the Prototype and Creating the Final Kit

Based on my experience using my toolkit with the livestream, I realized I needed to make better use of the space in the toolkit to allow for the maximum space to take notes. In order to maintain the flexibility of the kit while still allowing for meaningful note taking, I also decided to add in a section to quickly observe the scene and set intentions and research questions to guide my observation.

Using a timeline to record observations at regular intervals, while using a page to sketch out the scene, and other pages to make additional notes worked well, and was a clear improvement from taking notes on my phone.

^ The first page of the booklet captures information about the site and my own state of mind, as well as my goals for the observation.

> The second page directs me to check in with my senses and get an initial impression of the space. The third page helps me set focuses for the sketch and timeline while also providing space to draw conclusions about the space.

< The fourth page provides space for sketching. The fifth page provides a general format for a timeline to promote taking note of observations at regular intervals.

> The sixth page is a space to identify the types of people at the location, and to observe a specific category, such as behavior, emotions, or comments. The seventh page serves as overflow for notes and prompts me to write down concluding thoughts before leaving the space.

< The final page invites me to finish reflecting at the studio by collecting my thoughts and any materials I picked up onsite, before drawing final conclusions.