Smart Communication Design Company

UX Blog

Home > UX Research in Japan > UX Blog > December 2017 > Mobile Qualitative Research Takeaways from the JMRA Annual Conference 2017

The Mitsue-Links UX Blog shares some of our insights and opinions about UX in Japan, experience design and cultural differences between user research in Japan and the world.
If you want to find out more about us, please contact us at

Mobile Qualitative Research Takeaways from the JMRA Annual Conference 2017

UX Researcher - Serena Lai

On November 28, I attended the JMRA (Japan Marketing Research Association) Annual Conference hosted at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo. The event, held since 2005, provides participants the opportunity to learn about the latest global trends and developments in the marketing research industry. This year's talks were based on the theme "Fusion & Creation - Creating New Value", and looked at how marketing research today is not only about data analysis but about using advanced technologies and new research methods to bring more valuable customer insights to clients.

As a UX Researcher, I was interested in learning about popular global research methods since the toolbox that market and UX researchers draw from often overlap. For example, both use interviews, surveys, focus groups and other methods to collect information and learn about target audiences. Below are some of the takeaways from Dorrie Paynter's talk on "Qualitative Research in the US".

picture shows stage and a waiting audience at JRMA Annual Conference

Digital Ethnography as a Solution to the Limitations of Face-to-face Research

With clients wanting in-depth and actionable insights into their customers faster than ever, the use of digital ethnography in qualitative research is steadily rising. In this method, participants use their own smartphones to record in-the-moment snapshots of their own customer journeys (or other experiences pertaining to a study goal). Collecting data with this approach is a powerful way to overcome limitations associated with face-to-face data collection. For example, digital ethnography helps overcome the following limitations associated with in-person interviews:

Scenarios for Using Mobile Research

Apart from overcoming limitations associated with face-to-face interviews, digital ethnography is useful for hybrid studies. It enables clients to see real examples from participants about the what, where, when, how and why questions that pertain to a study. Below are some scenarios where mobile research can be useful for gathering quick, initial findings before the start of the main study.

Summary of the Benefits of Digital Ethnography

As seen above, there are many use cases where mobile research can be beneficial, especially when capturing findings from a challenging environment is necessary or desired. Below is wrap-up of the main advantages associated with conducting digital ethnography:

image shows Dorrie Paynter speaking on stage.

Challenges of Conducting Mobile Research in Japan

During the talk, it was interesting to learn that Dorrie had conducted smartphone-based research not only in the US but also in Japan. So at the end of the session, I took the opportunity to ask if there were any cultural challenges she and her team faced. Apart from language-related issues and finding a mobile app that was suitable for conducting a study with Japanese users, it seemed that one of the unique aspects of mobile research in Japan is needing to consider how to put participants at ease.

While people in the US are quite open to accepting unexpected requests to video record and self-narrate an experience as it occurs in the moment, Japanese people need a bit of warning. This is because they tend to be more conscious of their appearance and surroundings, and would not want to look untidy nor want to inconvenience others while they video record something. For example, taking a video on your mobile phone while talking and simultaneously walking down a busy public street can be seen as rude in Japan. This is due to the potential nuisance you could cause others; with your attention divided, you might accidentally run into other people or others might need to go out of their way to avoid bumping into you. So to avoid causing any discomfort and awkwardness for Japanese participants, and to make local research go more smoothly, it is always best to inform Japanese people of any required tasks before a study begins so they can properly prepare themselves or share their potential concerns in advance.