Ethnography and humanizing design

I love Hal Phillips’s story of how ethnographic research changed the culture at Benjamin Moore1. From Escaping a Strategic Cul de Sac: Using Ethnographic Insights to Challenge Organizational Bias:

They no longer saw homeowners simply as property owners who were protecting their investments – they were also people whose homes were reflections of their changing selves.

They no longer saw painting contractors simply as skilled applicators who would always choose the best paint for the job – they were also businesspeople facing market pressures from all sides, and who needed a helping hand.

And they no longer saw designers simply as indoctrinated advocates for Benjamin Moore – they were also project managers who still wanted mentorship.

Equipped with their newfound intuition, Benjamin Moore set out to reconnect authentically with their customers at all levels. We provided a road out of their strategic cul de sac – a human heartbeat in all of the hard data, and a way to truly internalize the emotions motivating stakeholder behavior.

There is, in my experience, no better way to humanize a company’s design process than doing ethnographic research.


  1. Insert “watching paint dry” joke here.