I have worked as a web and graphic designer and was originally a multimedia design major before deciding to transfer to anthropology with the goal of advancing to design anthropology. Since my time as a design major, I faced the challenges of becoming a successful designer by supplementing my formal education with a multitude of relevant topics in design concepts, theory, and practice and writing about my findings through a past blog at www.projectdesignportfolio.com. That blog represents the period of time that lead up to my interest in anthropology. Even before discovering the promising field of design anthropology, I viewed anthropology as an avenue for inspiration and innovation through a deeper dive into people’s lived experiences within the cultural melting pot.
What I came to realize was that much of my dialogue with, and approach to, design was a form of applied critical anthropology in that a fundamental objective and foundation of every design project that I participated in was, in a way, a cultural commentary as much as a design, but, at least personally, that commentary was only meaningful when it was engaged with the design process and translated into design concepts. Ultimately, my foray into anthropology broadened my perspective and has challenged my preconceived notions of innovation, progress, and representation.
However, the future-oriented, interventionist, and collaborative nature of design, not to mention the overriding objective to produce a design concept, parts from traditional anthropology. While the theoretical and conceptual frameworks utilized to understand and interpret the contexts of use, the temporal dimensions that ground them, as well as the trained sensitivities to the complexities and particularities of shared events, actions, experiences, and meaning-making of the anthropological enterprise is often viewed as a useful, but secondary consideration to design – which is itself a site of cultural production and one that is judged by its change impact.
In it’s integration with design, the end product of design anthropology is a design concept for a product, service, or system. This represents a more action-oriented and interventionist process than traditional anthropology and one that seeks the inclusion of all stakeholders’ points of view. Socio-cultural analysis and participatory practices are central in order to assess the situation and allow proper representation. Therefore, it is the event of the design problem-solving process itself that is critical for design anthropology and where its true potential as a collaborative and participatory methodology is situated. Design anthropology has moved me further into supporting collaborative and participatory design processes that takes into consideration the perspectives of all stakeholders and the impact that design has on related systems.
My approach to design anthropology is not as an anthropologist interested in working in the field of design and HCI or as a designer dabbling in anthropological frameworks, but to practice design anthropology as an emerging field within design and HCI. Following the dictum of design anthropology that design is not merely a final, prescribed, solution to straightforward problems, but is a temporally and socially embedded arena that inhabits a wide range of perspectives of lived experiences where practices of use are continuously improvised and recontextualized.