Assignment #3: Ethnographic Research



ASK: Conduct at least three separate in-person interviews (not a group interview) with potential users and experts. At least one of the three interviews should be someone who would be considered somewhat of an expert in the specific area. OBSERVE: Observe people in the setting related to your sub-theme. Take notes. Try not to get in the way or make your presence obvious. EXPERIENCE: Engage in activities related to your sub-theme. Think about your actions and why you are doing each step. Take photos or storyboard your experience.


I began this assignment by doing some initial research online about my winter sub-theme: scarves. I figured a good way to start would be to familiarize myself more with the space so I could start to formulate questions to ask the three individuals I would be interviewing. I started by making a small collage of scarves to get the creative juices flowing on the topic. A simply Google search resulted in thousands of photos of different styles of scarves, how they are used/worn, different material types -- the list goes on.


One thing I noted during this step was how many websites/blogs/pins etc. that focused specifically on the many different ways of tying a scarf. I had no idea how creative people got with the way they used this accessory! Below is a sample image taken from a blog that displays 12 ways to tie a scarf (and trust me, there are maaaany more out there).


Image Source:

As a frequent user of this kind of product, I had some initial thoughts on what types of issues or areas for improvement that would likely come up. However, I wanted to make sure I didn't let this bias affect my research. While I found many of my initial thoughts realized within the interviews, there were many other things I hadn't ever thought about regarding the use of scarves. One important part of my first observations, however, was realizing that there are a few major categories of products in this space: scarves used as statement pieces that focus more on style, and scarves that are designed more for functionality to be as warm as possible during the cold winter months.


For this segment of the assignment, I chose to interview three individuals from varying backgrounds in an attempt to vary my responses. I selected a younger female student, an older male professional, and an employee of a store at the mall that sold scarves. The store employee was to serve as my "subject matter expert" in this space. I asked them the following core questions as a base for my research:

1. What are the main reasons you use this product?
2. What are the most enjoyable benefits of using this product?
3. What are some common problems or issues that arise when using this product?
4. What factors come into play when choosing which products to buy in this space?
5. What types of improvements would you suggest to innovate this product in general?

Based on the responses to these questions, I made a list of notes that would serve as a thinking space to build upon ideas for innovation. My notes included the following major observations:

  • Scarves are a big statement piece in the accessory world and many people choose to buy them based on their aesthetic designs
  • Many scarves that are sold aren't considered to be very functional (i.e. sold more for style than for keeping you warm)
  • Storage of scarves is a common issue and it can be difficult to store them in a way that allows the user to view their collection in its entirety (i.e. they often end up stuffed in a ball or in a box somewhere)
  • A common problem when wearing scarves is when they get caught in a coat/jacket zipper
  • Scarves seem to be a more feminine accessory and trend
  • Many people like to wear a scarf to keep warm in cold weather, but prefer to continue wearing it inside to limit the amount of dressing/undressing they need to do when moving between indoors and outdoors
  • Scarves can be difficult to tie if they are too bulky
  • Bulky scarves are the warmest, but tend to get in the way when engaging in outdoor activities

A few of the problem statements I came up with were:

"Becca needs a way to store her large collection of scarves because when they are stuffed into a box or closet she has a hard time sorting them and often forgets which styles she owns."

"Tom needs a way to wear scarves that is more unique to his style because he feels as though most scarves on the market are feminine."


This part of the assignment was somewhat difficult because it isn't very cold out yet (or at least nowhere near as cold as it's going to get, am I right?!). Thus, many of the product users I observed when walking around the mall this past weekend were wearing scarves as more of a style piece than for full functionality and protection from cold weather. A few observations I made during this visit are listed below.

  • The majority of people wearing scarves appeared to be using the product purely as an accessory. I even asked one woman if she was cold (trying not to be offensive, of course). She laughed and said no, but mentioned that if she takes a scarf off right when she gets indoors her neck will be cold and therefore likes to keep wearing it.
  • The styles of scarves are endless. And I mean ENDLESS. One store alone had over 30 different patterns of scarves! However, most scarves had two things in common. They were either rectangular or square in shape, and tended to be made out of lightweight and cheaper looking materials.
  • Infinity scarves -- or scarves that are made into a loop so the user doesn't have to wrap it themselves -- are a relatively newer trend in the space.
  • The storage of scarves in store displays used horizontal bars to display them to potential buyers.
  • The price range for this product was very wide and tended to depend on the quality of the material.


The last part of this assignment asked us to take notes and make observations on our own personal experiences with the sub-theme or product. Like I said before, this was easy for me, since I am a self-proclaimed scarf addict. I made some observations and took some photos of my own scarf collection and how I store them.

One thing I did notice is that I don't own many scarves that are actually warm, which is pretty silly. During the dead of winter, a stylish scarf just isn't going to cut it. Of those that I do own that I would consider truly "winter" scarves, they are warm but way too bulky. In fact, I tend not to wear them because they get in the way when I wear them and I'm trying to do anything even kind of active with my arms, etc. Most of my collection are what I would call accessory scarves, which aren't very functional in keeping me warm but look goooood. ;)



Another thing I noted (and that I have been painfully aware of previous to this assignment) is that storing scarves is annoying at best. Personally I tend to stuff them in a crate to keep them out of sight. When I thought about this a little more I remembered how a friend of mine stores her scarf collection and literally laughed out loud. She must have a hundred scarves hanging on a huge coat rack in the corner of her room. She has told me in the past that the coat rack frequently falls over from being too heavy, but she doesn't have a better way of storing them so she just adjusts it until the next time she throws one on top. (I hoped to get a picture of the rack for this post, but I figured it would be a little weird to call my friend at almost midnight asking for a photo of her scarf collection... so maybe later.)



Your blog is great to look at! It's very visually attractive with the pictures and the way you segment the text. It seems like you really enjoyed putting the effort forth to do this assignment. An optional suggestion I would have that could provide interesting results is to ask different questions to different people that tailor more to them. This could yield different answers or take the conversation in a different direction. It looks like your blogs are continuing to get better, and keep up the good work!

Hi Marin:
Your blog has a very classic and neat feeling, and I enjoy reading your post! First of all, your layout is very organized and different sections are very specific so I can easily refer back to your post. You got a very general topic and I am glad you found your directions to get start with.
Second, I think maybe for the interviews, you can find specific questions for different interviewees, because some of your questions might sound a little bit odd for guys.
You analyzed your observations and experiences very well, and it seems like you found your issues related to the topic. However, I think you missed the final part, the problem statement. If you could use “XXX needs a way to _____ because _______” this format to indicate your problems clearly, then this would be a great post example:)

I enjoy a lot reading your post mainly because your post is clear and organized with visuals. I think you did great job on researching different types of scarves and different ways of wearing scarves before you head out to do some interviews. It tells me that you had put a lot of effort into this assignment and is thinking in different directions!
My suggestion for the post would be:
1). although it's great to list out your observations from your survey into bullet points, it would be better if you could also include the direct quote from your responders.
2). it would be best to include the pictures of your responders(since it was one of the requirements)

Overall, a well organized and aesthetically pleasing post.
Some notes:

A picture of your notes might have been a nice visual aid.

The questions: "What are the most enjoyable benefits of using this product?" and "What are some common problems or issues that arise when using this product?"seems a bit too leading to me. Perhaps combining them into: "Describe your overall experiences and feelings regarding this product."

For your Tom problem statement, you might have left it more general by saying he needs a way to keep his neck warm and/or have a neck related fashion accessory (whichever he was concerned about) that fit with his style.

Be sure you proof read your post thoroughly for grammatical errors before submitting the final post.
"A simply Google search resulted in thousands of photos..."

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Marin Blair published on November 10, 2013 9:38 PM.

Assignment #2: Mind Mapping & Silly Ideas was the previous entry in this blog.

Assignment #4: Brainstorming is the next entry in this blog.

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