The Journal of Business Anthropology is an Open Access journal which publishes the results of anthropological research in business organizations and business situations of all kinds. The theme of the latest issue – Vol 7, No 2 (2018) – is design anthropology:
Design Anthropology: An Introduction to the Themed Issue
Christine Miller and Emilie Hitch
In this introduction, we consider existing notions of design anthropology in relation to articles by authors who represent an evolving network of interpreters of the field.
People Are Not Users
Tamara Hale (Principal User Experience Researcher at Workday)
Ethnographic methods have filtered from academia to product development, particularly in the technology industry, and into the broader ‘human-centered’ design practice. In the process, the ethnographic influence has entered the toolkits of other practitioners. This article argues that, despite an overall positive impact, the implementation of ethnographic methods has had less of an impact on the tendency to think of people primarily in relation to a specific product or service as “users”, “customers” or “clients”, which results in both a simplistic and individualistic view of human experiences. I argue that there is untapped potential in our discipline’s holistic thinking as applied to our work outside of academia. One existing avenue that lends itself to translating holism into design is service design, a field of practice that shifts the focus from the design of one-off solutions (material products, digital products and others) to the design of a system of products, interactions and processes intended to serve ordinary people, often with the objective of improving their lives and well-being. These services can encompass, but are not limited to any one, digital interactions, physical products, communication materials or human interactions, and address the behind-the-scenes organizational change that must occur to support the creation and maintenance of services focused on people. Anthropologists can bring a special perspective to service design through their attention to understanding whole systems and, in the process, can counteract the individualism inherent in some design practices and corporate frameworks. The examples used here reflect my own experiences as the anthropologist informing service design projects.
An Uneasy Truce: Navigating Interdisciplinary Collaboration in the Software Industry
Natalie D. Hanson (Principal and partner at ZS)
Over the past few decades, much has been written about the ways in which project teams bring technologies to market. In this context, social scientists typically partner with specialized designers to bring their research and new concepts to life in a way that is consumable by a variety of team members, including engineers and data scientists. This paper explores one such collaboration, and describes the challenging conditions that team members face — both in their work context and with their peers — in imagining and building a commercially viable software product.
Design Anthropology as Social Design Process
Siobhan Gregory (industrial designer and design anthropologist living and working in Detroit)
As professionally trained designers position their practices as central to social change, they bring with them efficiency in process, technical expertise, sophisticated aesthetic skills, and highly scripted narratives. In economically challenged cities like Detroit, creative professionals are hired to help transform neighborhoods that are described as abandoned, disorderly, and “blighted”. Residents of these neighborhoods are increasingly asked to engage in stakeholder meetings and design charrettes that promise greater inclusion and “a voice” in the process. These activities and interventions are sometimes framed as Design Thinking, human-centered design, or participatory design. However, as designer-adapted, re-contextualized anthropological methods, these approaches may ultimately diminish the value and understanding of applied anthropological enquiry. The author argues that design anthropology can offer a deeper, more grounded, and more equitable approach to design and design research processes in contexts of “urban renewal.”
Designing for Diverse User Groups: Case Study of a Language Archive
Christina Wasson (Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Texas), Melanie Medina (M.A. candidate in Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas), Miyoung Chong (doctoral candidate in the College of Information, University of North Texas.), Brittany LeMay (M.S. candidate in Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas), Emma Nalin (M.S./M.P.H. candidate in Applied Anthropology and Community Health at the University of North Texas), Kenneth Saintonge (M.S. candidate in Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas)
This article explores the challenges of designing large-scale computing systems for multiple, diverse user groups. Such computing systems house large, complex datasets, and often provide analytic tools to interpret the data. They are increasingly central to activities in industry, science, and government agencies, and are often associated with “big data,” data warehousing, and/or scientific “cyberinfrastructure”. A key characteristic of these systems is the diversity and multiplicity of their intended user groups, which may range from various scientific disciplines, to assorted business functions, to government officials and citizen groups. These user groups occupy structurally different positions in local and global political economies, and bring different forms of expertise to the data housed in the computing system. We argue that design anthropologists can contribute to the usefulness of such systems by engaging in collaborative ethnographic research with the targeted user groups, and communicating findings to the designers and developers creating these systems.
Teach Your Children Well: (How and) Why Design Anthropology Speaks to Our Students
Lisa DiCarlo (lecturer at Brown University)
This paper explores design anthropology as a topic of study among university students. After establishing a working definition of design anthropology, I will use a case study from class to illustrate several aspects of the discipline that appeal to students: holism in research, understanding before action, and stakeholder engagement. I conclude with a discussion of the importance of informed intervention as an appealing outcome for students.
Critique as Collaboration in Design Anthropology
Laura Forlano (Associate Professor of Design at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology and Affiliated Faculty in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology where she is Director of the Critical Futures Lab), Stephanie Smith (Adjunct Faculty member and the Director of Corporate and Community Partner Engagement for the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology)
Design anthropology is an emerging field at the intersection of design and anthropology with a distinct style of knowing. This paper argues that in order to create transdisciplinary practices around collaboration for design anthropology, the field must understand existing practices of critique in the field of design. Based on a two-year National Science Foundation funded study of collaboration with designers and design educators in four countries, this article describes the culture of critique that underpins the collaborative practices of designers. In particular, designers often participate in a studio-based culture of critique, which is learned in art and design schools, even when it is not explicitly taught. Finally, as the field of design anthropology matures to include global networks of scholars and practitioners, it is useful to consider the ways in which emergent practices of critique as collaboration, supported by digital platforms, might move beyond the design studio and into distributed collaborations.