Ethnographic research: a simple playbook in action

Sumit Dagar
4 min readAug 16, 2018
A picture from Maharashtra Tier 2 study.

At Hike, user centricity is one of our core focus areas. We obsess to not only deliver functionality and quality that users need but do that while using delightful metaphors that they can relate to in their local context.

“All answers lie outside the building”

When it comes to implementation, we have simple playbooks at Hike which make sure we do things the right (theoretical) way, do it at pace (entrepreneurial) and deliver simple and actionable output. These are part of an overarching Hike Code that “outlines what we believe makes for great people and how we envision our culture”.

Below is a short walkthrough of our playbook for primary research.

We played out the playbook in one of our recent exercises: From in-app data, we knew that MH has been our most loyal and biggest geography. In 1 to 1 chats, we knew that both participants are usually from the same state. The obvious choice was to understand behaviours of our Maharastra users in-app, and more importantly, in their real lives.

Our primary research team came onboard, and planned out a comprehensive ethnographic exercise for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in Maharastra.

Glimpse of our primary research playbook.

Stage 1: Identifying broad research direction and target segment/geography

The research exercise typically includes 3 main user segments:

  1. Users: everyone who fits our target segment, example SEC B Tier 3 Maharashtrian.
  2. Local influencers: anyone who can represent behavioural patterns of local culture, example salesperson, cab driver, barber etc.
  3. Cultural experts: influential people who represent local culture or understand it deeply, example celebrity, professor, radio jockey etc.

For example: over last 3 months, we have interviewed 100+ users, 20+ influencers and 5+ cultural experts in 2 geographies.

Stage 2 of primary research playbook.

Once in the field, we stick to a pre-planned and structured itinerary to observe users. Additionally, impromptu conversations with the locals help us dive deeper. We are frequently exposed to interesting stories, quotes and memories that educate us beyond expected.

Hike was the 1st app I downloaded, when I got my first android phone” — tier 2 user in MH.

humein saadharn vada pav chahiye, burger nahi” — we want a simple vada pav, not a burger (in context of complicated apps).

Stage 3 of primary research playbook.

Finally, on output, we typically deliver on three main aspects:

  1. User Personas: 3–4 dominating personas that can represent distinct user behaviours clubbed together by affinity.
  2. The journey map for each persona: how does each persona goes about their day/journey within the scope of research direction.
  3. Key Research Insights: a master-sheet of all learning from the field, prioritised by important behaviours and opportunities.

A persona from a recent study.

One of the MH Personas

Deliver on needs, build for aspirations

While the research concludes with these reports, the product thinking actually starts at this point. The learning from research enables us to:

  1. Empathise with users — to kill our biases even before they can set in.
  2. Identify important opportunities — to help us in prioritising and combining the right mix of problems.
  3. Identify metaphors and symbolism that works for them — to help us set the language and tonality of our designs.
  4. remove subjectivity from product and UX decisions that would otherwise require experimentation at cost of affordance.
  5. have some fun at office with a local food day, local movie channels in our cafetaria, local dress up days and celebrating local festivals. :)
A local influencer we interviewed in MH
All of the above are efforts of fabulous research team at Hike, comprising Shashank Yadav, Cydelle Zuzarte, Somya Mishra and Ankita Arora.



Sumit Dagar

Design Leader at Intuit. Ex head of design at 1mg, hike messenger. Creator of Braille Phone. TED Fellow, Rolex Laureate, Echoing Green Fellow.