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Design Ethnography


This unique course provides students from a wide range of backgrounds with an opportunity to immerse themselves in the tools, techniques and controversies of user research and design ethnography for the hi-tech, globalised industries of the future. The course has been developed by an inter-disciplinary and research intensive team of academics guided by an international Industry Steering Group including practitioners and Microsoft and the BBC.

Closing date: For entry Sept 2014, apply before 18th July 2014, if you need a visa to study in the UK

Why study Design Ethnography at Dundee?

For most companies, understanding the complex web of relationships between people, technology and design - the 'user experience' - can be vital in acquiring the competitive edge necessary in today's market place. User research has become an important function in almost all design-oriented industries: from car manufacturers through software development companies to the service industries.

Central to many of these activities is the practice of 'design ethnography'. Ethnography is the study and representation of people acting in their cultural settings. It relies on social research methods such as observations and interviews in 'the field'. Design ethnography draws on and adapts these techniques to gather and represent data and insights on design requirements and to leverage these within design and business contexts.

What's so good about Design Ethnography at Dundee?

The MSc Design Ethnography addresses an industry need for user researchers and design ethnographers who are sensitive to the complexities of delivering high value user data and insight, particularly in global and multi-cultural design and business settings.

For user researchers in the design, media, hi-tech, manufacturing and service industries the challenge is not just gathering data, but understanding it in ways that provide 'actionable insights' and then presenting the data and insights in ways that are meaningful and useful within design processes. The wordy reports beloved of traditional ethnographers are of little use in the fast paced, complex and visual worlds of product and service design, manufacturing and engineering.

Our graduates will play an important part in developing and refining the particular forms and styles of user research and ethnographic practice that emerge when applied in a design context.

"The staff were knowledgeable and supportive and brought in a breadth of viewpoints. The course also benefited from a number of guest lecturers who provided an insight to the industry perspective and life outside of academia." Sam Tilston, class of 2009

Who should study this course?

Anyone seeking a career in design ethnography, user research, usability analysis, strategic design or marketing within the design, manufacturing and service industries. We welcome students with undergraduate degrees in anthropology, sociology, marketing, psychology, computing, product design, interaction/interactive media design, HCI or human factors, media and communication studies.

We also welcome applications from people with alternative qualifications (including relevant work experience).

Related courses

Teaching & Assessment

This course is taught by staff in the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. The teaching team embraces the full range of professionals graduates would be likely to encounter in industry; from engineers and usability experts, through design managers, user researchers, designers and design ethnographers. Their rich and varied research activities inform the course and provide access to the very latest advances in the fields that contribute to design ethnography and user research. The current course team includes:

The start date is September each year and the course lasts for 12 months of intensive study, research and design practice.

How you will be taught

You will study three modules in each of the first two semesters (Sept- May), at which point you can if you wish graduate with a Postgradate Diploma. If you are taking the masters degree, you would complete your studies with a self directed major field study project (June-Sept). The project can be undertaken anywhere in the world and supported and assessed electronically where necessary.

Throughout the programme and on completion students enter their work in national and international competitions and animation festivals in the UK and overseas. Developing the research potential and impact of our postgraduate students is integral to our vision for research. Research focused students are encouraged to participate in research conferences, presentations, colloquia and networks. Guidance is given for those who wish to continue to PhD.

What you will study

The Masters is a one-year programme, across three semesters. Core modules and optional modules provide a balanced curriculum.  Masters students are required to attain 180 credits which comprise seven modules, as follows. PGDiploma students take 120 credits, PGCertificate students take 60 credits.

Semester 1 (20 credit modules)

  • Strategic Design and Innovation - Explores the design lifecycle and the latest methods for design innovation through hands-on projects.
  • Design Research Methods - Introduces you to various methods for generating useful research insight for design.
  • Experience Research 1 - Immerses you further in the key tools and methods needed to undertake interview and observation based fieldwork, and introduces the challenges of a) understanding what your client or company needs to know and b) turning field data into actionable insights and information.

One week at the beginning of the first semester is dedicated to induction and diagnostic testing to establish where support is required, especially for international students.

DJCAD operates a Reading Week during week 6 of the first semester. Reading Week is designated as five days where there are no timetabled taught classes. However, all students are expected to carry out either assigned work or self-directed work during this period. All University facilities are open during Reading Week with students expected to attend the University as usual.

Semester 2 (20 credit modules)

  • Strategic Information Design - Uncovering actionable insights from user research is useless unless you can communicate the results of that research effectively. This module provides you with an introduction to issues involved in strategically managing information design in business and design settings.
  • HCI and Usability Engineering - When you have finished the module you will have a broad understanding of: design criteria for good human-computer interfaces, choice and evaluation of interface technology, physical, sensory and cognitive human capabilities, interactive computing and usability engineering methods, and human-computer interface testing.
  • Experience Research 2 - This module considers the issues and difficulties inherent in translating ethnographic insights into useful 'material' for design from the perspective of the various stakeholders.

Semester 3 (60 credits)

  • Hothouse Summer - The aim of this module is to give students experience of developing, conducting and presenting a real-world user research project. The project can be conducted anywhere in the world, and managed and assessed remotely if necessary. Students will be guided in the production of a project brief, and supported through the course of their field study project by a supervisor from the staff team. The nature and outputs of the project will obviously vary from student to student and topic to topic, however in all cases the focus is to provide our students with a chance to apply and extend the full range of techniques and ideas they have been exploring on the taught modules.

You can choose to leave with a postgraduate diploma with 120 credits, or a postgraduate certificate with 60 credits.

How you will be assessed

Students are assessed by course work, including team project work, exploratory and finalised practical work, and written work


Prospects for graduates exist across a variety of settings. Typical graduate roles might include: design ethnographer, user research specialist, design strategist, design researcher, user experience specialist, usability analyst, or market researcher. Typical employers might include:

  • Design agencies
  • Market research firms
  • Manufacturing industry
  • IT companies
  • The media
  • Financial and other services
  • User experience research consultancies
  • Government and NGOs exploring e.g. e-citizenship, e-health, etc.

Entry Requirements

EU and International students visit our EU and International webpages for entry requirements tailored to your home country.

You should have, or expect to have, a good Honours degree in one of the following areas: anthropology, sociology, marketing, psychology, computing, product design, interaction/interactive media design, HCI or human factors.

Graduates from other disciplines, or those without an undergraduate degree but with relevant work experience, will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

IELTS of 6.0 (or equivalent), if your first language is not English. Please check our Language Requirements page for details of equivalent grades from other test providers, and information about the University of Dundee English Language courses.

English Language Pre-Sessional Programmes

We offer Pre-Sessional programmes and Foundation Programme(s) which are designed to prepare you for university study, the 24 week and 10 week programmes provide additional English Language tuition for students who do not meet our minimum English Language requirements by up to 1.0 IELTS and 0.5 IELTS respectively. Successful completion of these programmes guarantees progression to various degrees at the University of Dundee as long as you hold a relevant offer. The 30 week (one Academic Year) Foundation Programme(s) allow applicants who have not met our typical academic entry requirements, and require additional English Language support by up to 1.0 to 1.5 IELTS, to gain the necessary qualifications to enter the University of Dundee degree programmes in the following year.

Fees and Funding

Academic Year Home/EU Overseas
2014-15 £3,800 £13,500

Sources of Funding

Information about the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design scholarships can be found on the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design scholarships webpage.

Other sources of funding for postgraduate students can be found on our Scholarships webpage.

SAAS tuition fee loans are available for this course for students who meet the eligibility criteria. Visit our SAAS tuition fee loan webpage for more information and links.

Living Costs

  • Dundee is ranked as one of the most affordable places for students to live in the UK, and the cost of living is around 15% cheaper than the UK average.
  • Increasing numbers of students are successfully undertaking part-time work to supplement their income. You can get advice from our Careers Service, both about job opportunities and how to find a suitable study/work/life balance. EU and international students are also allowed to work up to 20 hours per week.
  • As a student in Scotland, you have free access to the National Health Service. Visits to doctors and hospitals, as well as prescriptions, sight tests and dental checkups, are available free of charge.

Your Application

How to Apply

Apply online via UKPASS

You must read the information regarding how to upload relevant documents to UKPASS before proceeding with your application.

Any questions?

Please feel free to contact us with any enquiries you may have prior to completing your application.

Course Director

Dr Catriona Macaulay


Postgraduate Secretary

Duncan of Jordanstone College
of Art & Design
University of Dundee
Perth Road

Telephone: 01382 388 219 (from the UK)
Telephone: +44 1382 388 219 (from outside the UK)

Fax: 01382 386 937 (from the UK)
Fax: +44 1382 386 937 (from outside the UK)


Admissions Contact

Postgraduate Admissions
Admissions and Student Recruitment
University of Dundee

Telephone: 01382 384 384 (from the UK)
Telephone: +44 1382 384 384 (from outside the UK)

Fax: 01382 385 500 (from the UK)
Fax: +44 1382 385 500 (from outside the UK)