Recently a few of us went to Sony Ericsson to pitch cultural analysis and listen to how they try to integrate research into the design process. The tiny meeting room was overcrowded since almost the entire “Experience Lab” decided to show up. Even though they were not able to talk in detail about their research projects it was interesting to hear about their work.
Traditionally the research at Sony Ericsson have been located to the marketing department of the company but is nowadays more and more being transfered to an earlier stage in the development process. In order to actually make the research applicable rather than be used as an evaluation. Fortunately they also do a lot of qualitative research so we could leave the “quant vs. qual”-discussion aside. Two of the researchers (of one had a background in social anthropology!) had just gotten back from a week of research in Los Angeles on “heavy music listeners” but most of the research is done inhouse in their lab it seemed.
My personal impression was that a lot of the research at Sony Ericsson is focused on the specific products (mostly forthcoming), which is fine and important from a user experience perspective. But I think that cultural analysis has its strongest benefits in the strategic processes. Talking to a member of the portfolio development team about when the iPhone was released and if it was a surprise to them he said it largely was. That Apple, with the iPhone, broke many of the norms and ways of how things “should be done” in the mobile phone business. One of the most valuable insights a cultural analysis and ethnographic approach can give, to a company, is exactly about revealing these often invisible norms so a company can break them and widen the whole perception of what for example a mobile phone might be.