“Instead of creating a clever new product before trying to sell it to customers, the anthropological approach requires companies to look at the customer perspective first and feed that information back to developers and designers.”
(The above sentence is from the referred article)
Thomas K.’s article is very much relevant in the context of user research requirement for establishing effective IA. The fact that websites have a global reach and that the user perceptions & needs vary with varying user groups (different audiences/customer types based on market and product types, ethnic groups), ethnographic research, and thus anthropological approach to user research has a great importance in developing products that can satisfy a wide customer base.
One of the companies that I had a chance to work with intended to provide web presence which would act as a one-stop portal for its customers, at the same time market its own organizational mission, values and processes. The customers are defined as various insurance carriers and managed care organizations that provide various insurance products and benefit services to their users. Even though there is no strong effect of ethnic groups (since the products are offered for US), there exists differences in the targeted audience/user types. This calls for looking at perspectives of each of these targeted user types and thus pass the requirements to the design and development team.
For example, the information seeking needs and website usage of agents and capital carrier organizations are totally different. Agents are interested in knowing and managing quoting information such as proposals, quotes, plans, rates etc. They would be interested to have these information/tasks described and linked from the home page. Whereas the carriers groups would like to advertise their products and would like to have options to manage individual and group insurance cases, which would require a totally different view of interface and content (even affecting the way they are linked from the home page). These differing user perceptions and information needs would greatly impact how the main page and the subsequent login based sub-sections would be designed and developed.
Thomas K. (August, 2005). Anthropologists get to the bottom of customer needs. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b260c81a-13f7-11da-af53-00000e2511c8.html on May, 2008.