“Design anthropology describes the practices of anthropologists who collaborate with designers and team members from other disciplines in order to develop new product ideas” (Wasson 2000).
The Value of Ethnographic Research
“The primary contribution of the anthropologists lies in the ethnographic research they conduct with users, or potential users, of the product being envisioned, in order to learn about the everyday practices, symbolic meanings, and forms of sociality with which a successful new product would need to articulate. Designers and other members of product development teams draw on findings from such research to develop design ideas that fit the lived experience of intended users” (Wasson 2016).
To learn more about design anthropology and the value of applying ethnographic research to business problems, check out these must-read books:
Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice
Design is a key site of cultural production and change in contemporary society. Anthropologists have been involved in design projects for several decades but only recently a new field of inquiry has emerged which aims to integrate the strengths of design thinking and anthropological research.
This book is written by anthropologists who actively participate in the development of design anthropology. Comprising both cutting-edge explorations and theoretical reflections, it provides a much-needed introduction to the concepts, methods, practices and challenges of the new field. Design Anthropology moves from observation and interpretation to collaboration, intervention and co-creation. Its practitioners participate in multidisciplinary design teams working towards concrete solutions for problems that are sometimes ill-defined. The authors address the critical potential of design anthropology in a wide range of design activities across the globe and query the impact of design on the discipline of anthropology.
This volume will appeal to new and experienced practitioners in the field as well as to students of anthropology, innovation, science and technology studies, and a wide range of design studies focusing on user participation, innovation, and collaborative research.
Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition 2nd Edition
Design Anthropology brings together leading international design theorists, consultants and anthropologists to explore the changing object culture of the 21st century.
Decades ago, product designers used basic market research to fine-tune their designs for consumer success. Today the design process has been radically transformed, with the user center-stage in the design process. From design ethnography to culture probing, innovative designers are employing anthropological methods to elicit the meanings rather than the mere form and function of objects. This important volume provides a fascinating exploration of the issues facing the shapers of our increasingly complex material world.
The text features case studies and investigations covering a diverse range of academic disciplines. From IKEA and anti-design to erotic twenty-first-century needlework and online interior decoration, the book positions itself at the intersections of design, anthropology, material culture, architecture, and sociology.
Design Anthropological Futures
A major contribution to the field, this ground-breaking book explores design anthropology’s focus on futures and future-making. Examining what design anthropology is and what it is becoming, the authors push the frontiers of the discipline and reveal both the challenges for and the potential of this rapidly growing transdisciplinary field.
Divided into four sections – Ethnographies of the Possible, Interventionist Speculation, Collaborative Formation of Issues, and Engaging Things – the book develops readers’ understanding of the central theoretical and methodological aspects of future knowledge production in design anthropology. Bringing together renowned scholars such as George Marcus and Alison Clarke with young experimental design anthropologists from countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Brazil, the UK, and the United States, the sixteen chapters offer an unparalleled breadth of theoretical reflections and rich empirical case studies.
Written by those at the forefront of the field, Design Anthropological Futures is destined to become a defining text for this growing discipline. A unique resource for students, scholars, and practitioners in design anthropology, design, architecture, material culture studies, and related fields.
Learn More About Design Anthropology
To find out more about the benefits of bringing anthropology and design together to solve the toughest problems in business, check these links out on design anthropology, using contextual inquiry for design research and getting user experience (UX) adopted by leadership in a corporate environment.
Wasson, C. (2000). Ethnography in the Field of Design. Human Organization, 59(4), 377-388.
Wasson, C. (2016). Design Anthropology. General Anthropology, 23(2), 1-11.
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