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8 May 2012

Dundee experts helping lead European design challenges

Experts in design ethnography at the University of Dundee - including students and staff - are heading to Barcelona this week to join a major European conference looking at how design can help solve business challenges and deliver better products and services.

Dr Cat Macaulay, programme director of the MSc in Design Ethnography at the University of Dundee, is co-chair of the EPIC Europe meeting, which takes place in Barcelona on Friday May 11th.

"It sounds trivial but understanding what people really need is much harder than it sounds," said Dr Macaulay. "Using ethnography to get 'up close and personal' with them really helps. Once you do, you see more clearly how to develop and improve your offering or even your whole business strategy. It works for Intel and Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble and the BBC. We want to ensure it works for all companies across Europe, large and small."

Around 100 social science and design experts from across Europe will gather at the meeting. Among them will be two staff and eight students from the University of Dundee.

Understanding what makes consumers, users and customers tick through ethnography has been growing in industry for over 20 years. From computers to fast foods, from fashion to mobile phones, ethnographers are helping companies and organisations all over the world connect with the people they ultimately hope will use their products and services. Industry representatives, from startups to large corporations, researchers, consultants, designers and academics from across Europe will join the Barcelona meeting to discuss and develop the use of ethnography in the corporate world. Their goal is to solve a wide range of tricky business challenges while at the same time offering people relevant and satisfactory products and services.

Ethnography originated in cultural anthropology - by spending time immersing themselves in foreign cultures anthropologists hoped to build a rich understanding of everyday life in those cultures. Today it is increasingly used in business contexts to understand consumer and customer 'cultures'. Ethnographers visit people in their everyday life places, such as their homes or workplaces. According to practitioners, the insights gained are often richer and more profound compared to other methods and may lead to products and services that meet the deeper needs of users and consumers. Businesses adopting this approach, which is also known as business anthropology or design ethnography, hope to stick out from the competition through novel and more relevant offerings.

As co-chair Heinrich Schwarz, Innovation & Strategy Consultant, from Hamburg, points out, "The ethnographic approach to understanding people's needs, desires and lives holds particular promise in these turbulent economic times. With this meeting we are hoping to establish the infrastructure and create a common vision for fulfilling this role."

The first EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) was held in the US in 2005, where the use of ethnographic methods is more widespread, especially in the technology sector. The Barcelona meeting (EPIC Europe), its younger sister, is the first gathering with a dedicated European focus. Through presentations, workshops and a keynote lecture, delegates hope to further sharpen the method to make it more useful specifically to European business needs today and in the future.

The Design Ethnohgraphy programme at the University of Dundee is based in Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. For more on Design Ethnography at the University of Dundee see:


Meeting information:
EPIC Europe Barcelona Meeting
May 11, 2012 - 8:30-18:00

For media enquiries contact:
Roddy Isles
Head, Press Office
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
TEL: 01382 384910
MOBILE: 07800 581902