Lost in Translation? Ethics and Ethnography in Design Research

  • Christine Z. Miller
Keywords: Ethics, ethnography, design research


It has long been the case that ethnographic techniques have been appropriated by other disciplines. In particular, designers have employed ethnography and naturalistic inquiry in research for private and public sector client projects. As ethnographic methods have diffused to other fields questions have been raised about whether the ethical concerns that have become engrained over time in anthropological field work have carried over along with the methodology. This article explores how ethical considerations are addressed (or not) in ethnographic-style research, specifically within the field of design. A review of secondary sources and interviews with three practicing designers provide insight as to the shifts that have occurred over time within design and how these changes have impacted design research and practice, specifically in relation to ethical issues.