Field observation

​Into the wild​: Reveals insights by observing users in their real-life environments without self-reporting bias.

Evaluative method
Suggested Time

Depends on the definition of your research question, screening and organization of logistics, as well as final analysis.

Required Expertise



Reporter tools (notebook, pen, camera, recording device)​


Sample to be observed, observer, field assistants (if applicable)​

Must have
This method can be applied to all types of innovations.


Field observation (or ethnography) is a type of field study in which researchers observe people in their natural environments to gain a more holistic, contextual understanding of their behavior and mental models.​


Very important: all team members (including management and digital developers) participate in at least one short field observation exercise. This is clue to increasing the awareness and empathy of the whole team around users’ context and needs.​


Field observation is a great way to correct your own assumptions and mental modes by meeting your users. Goals for field observation usually include:​

  • Gather information on the use of your product or service or how people currently solve a task (to prepare Experience Maps)
  • Understand people’s needs regarding your topic​
  • Collect data for User Journeys, User Personas, or other use case definition exercises​

Field studies are an exploratory method generally to be used in the beginning of your User Research and design process, although you can also do contextual inquiry exploring an existing product or service.​

How much time

This will depend very much on your research question. Beyond time for preparing and analyzing your data collection, you should plan for time to observe the process/activities of interest several times to get a good overview.​

Why it’s useful

Data on what people do vs. what they say they would do​
Participants do not have to travel
Repeated exposure to examples and incidents of study​

Potential challenges

Expensive & time-consuming​​
Harder to record than interviews​


Is this for you?

Get step-by-step guidance, expert tips and best practice examples for effective Field Observation.

Image by Emmanuel Zapata

Emmanuel, Zapata - Digital Agriculture and HCD, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

"Our field observations in Honduras highlighted challenges faced by agricultural stakeholders, including connectivity and enabling condition constraints. This firsthand insight will greatly benefit our design."
Image by Emmanuel Zapata
Why Researchers Find this Useful
Field work brings you diverse insights on actors, behavior and the current course of events in areas linked to your topic.
Image by NNG

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