24 May 2008

Design anthropology: What can it add to your design practice?

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Elizabeth Tunstall
Design Anthropology takes user research to a whole new level. Dr. Elizabeth Tunstall explains in an essay on Adobe Design Center’s Think Tank how this emerging field can help to redefine design by exploring what it means to be human.

Design anthropology seeks to answer the question how do the processes and artifacts of design help come define what it means to human. It explores a wide range of interests related to design practice: how interfaces can be developed based on values of shared learning versus individual study; how the adoption of technologies can lead to greater social equality and inequalities over time; and how not just the words but the meanings behind words change as you design for one culture versus another. These are all issues of the human context that has grown more complex. Design anthropology is the field to help you feel confident in your design decisions by showing you the global ramifications of past, current, and potential communications, artifacts, and experiences as they affect the human context.

Design anthropology does not place separate emphasis on values, or design, or experience, which are the domains of philosophy, academic design research, and psychology, respectively. Rather, design anthropology focuses on the interconnecting threads among all three, requiring hybrid practices. The outcomes of design anthropology include statements providing some deeper understanding of human nature as well as designed communications, products, and experiences.

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(Check also this article by John Thackara on design and the future of travel.)

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