Recently I attended a meetup about “Researching Culture: a masterclass with Ipsos MORI.” Tickets to this popular event sell out quicker than Glastonbury so I was pleased to bag one of the 100 available.

I chose the event because research is an area I’ve wanted to develop for some time, as the ability to confidently use ‘evidence gathered’ to support my design decisions will enhance my skill set.  My colleague Sophie who is a regular at these events, came with me so it was good to be able to ask her general questions about how everything works and discuss what we were learning. I had no idea what to expect, but the venue seemed moderately contemporary, white walls, spacious and brightly lit, and there were funky-coloured stickers to represent the company’s brand.  The snacks, water, wine and beer were well received, disappearing within 10 minutes of me being there (it wasn’t me), helped along by the many researchers and designers with an appetite not just for knowledge, no doubt.


The main speakers were Alma Berliner, an Ethnographic Research Director at Ipsos who spoke alongside her colleague Helle Thorsen, an Anthropologist. They were working on many exciting projects such as the future of digital resourcing, building a new digital advice service and launching a second new telecommunication offering, using a full end-to-end innovation approach. Their use of Discovery, Design, Development, and Growth looked similar to methods I see many organisations follow, which I feel works though isn’t something particularly innovative.

They went on to show a video of families and their perceptions of cleanliness and helpfulness, to highlight the differences in culture. The first clip showed an Indian family that did not use appliances like washing machines to wash their clothes, as everything was hand-washed in a sink. The woman washing the clothes revealed she did not know why she did it this way, other than it was the way her mother showed her, and that the same practice had been passed down generation after generation. As the clip progressed, it showed a wife seeking assistance from her husband to change the bed sheets, where all he did was stand in one place, holding two corners of the bed sheets without any movement, like a statue.

The level of help the wife received was considered adequate by everyone who had watched it as we were all asked our opinions, though to me she might have had an easier time doing it herself. Next, we were shown an American family, with a mother instructing her son to clean the living room solely with Febreze, in which he proceeded to spray excessively, while she sat in the sofa praising him for the “housework” he had done. When it came to her clothes, she showed much more devotion to the results of her clean clothes, fresh out of the washing machine, by not only inhaling them for a long duration of time but by also asking her son to smell the clothes too.

The point I gathered was; it is essential to understand your target audience and the products/services you are building for them. As fancy or as popular as the idea may be in certain parts of the world, on the other side of the world, the products/services might be deemed useless. Creating a specific cleaning product in the country the first family came from would have been pointless as it wasn’t standard practice to use brand products to clean clothes. The American family, however, showed that smell was a significant factor in what some might deem as clean. This cultural difference can significantly affect the design and the user’s experience, for example, things such as a left to right bias in English speaking countries, assumes readers will start from the left of a page, so creating this UI for someone from the Middle East may not have the desired effect.

The talk refreshed what I already knew about cultural research, but it also helped me to rethink the type of questions and conversations I’ll have with potential users in the future, to inform my designs. I would definitely go to another talk because subconsciously I probably learned more than I realised, and also, I will forever be a student of design as people and cultures continuously shift, affecting the way designers approach a new task.

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