Learning Ethnography with Western Lowland Gorillas

A foray into observational research, with primates as the subjects.
A PDF of my full report is available here.

Why study gorillas?

As the name implies, user-centered design is, quite literally, centered around the user: their needs, wants, issues, desires, capacities, etc. What happens when the user is not a human being? How can a designer collect data and form an understanding of the complex needs and preferences of such a non-human user?

I explored these questions in the Fall of 2014 during a course focused on observing the Western Lowland Gorillas of Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo.

Insight through discipline

This experienced provided a rich opportunity to learn:
  • the value of structured and freeform approaches to user observation
  • how to remain conscious of the difference between factual observations and one's assumptions based on data
  • techniques in organized and rigorous data collection
  • how to share out one's findings while making clear the distinction between fact and interpretation
For my final deliverable, I prepared a report detailing design ideas that might improve aspects of either the gorillas' lives or visitors' experiences at the Zoo. (The report also includes relevant observational data and interpretations that inspired my designs.)
Excerpts of my final report can be found below, with a PDF of the full report available here.