Saturday, February 16, 2008

How would you evaluate a chair?

I was just looking at student project proposals for Dori Tunstall's design research methods course, and I was quite impressed by how the following two projects merge the concerns of anthropology, art and design:

Anna Leithauser, MFA Student Graphic Design, The Art of Bookspines (pdf)

The project investigates the use of bookspines as designed objects, as consumer items, and as decorative art. The goal is to study both how bookspines have impacted the design, sales, and evolution of books and how changes in the book industry have affected bookspine design.

Brett Jones, BFA Student Graphic Design, Expensive Sneakers in the Hip Hop Community (pdf)

This project studies the role of the marketing of African-American hip-hop rappers and athletes in making expensive sneakers a necessity and obsession in the African-American hip-hop community.

I was recently asked to explain what I think the connections are between anthropology and design, and I tried to describe how both involve thinking, doing and making.

Objects That Look

"Despite police ‘crackdowns’ and the increasing availability of willing sexual partners online, the canal remains popular with men seeking anonymous and impersonal encounters with other men. During my fieldwork I employed a combination of ethnographic voyeurism and online ethnography to gain an insight into this capricious and difficult to access group. Sketch enabled me to place the witnessed body into a photograph of the empty site, avoiding the ethical, legal and practical complications of recording participants’ identities during ‘the act’. The downside of the technique was that ultimately the other becomes my creation in the collages. However this feels a more honest representation of my experiences and the men’s objectification of each other when cruising."

Michael Atkins, MA Visual Anthropology, University of Manchester

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Design Anthropology – When opposites attract (pdf) by Werner Sperschneider, Mette Kjærsgaard and Gregers Petersen

"Design anthropology is a point of view: Not our (the designers) point of view not their (the users) point of view, but an additional point of view, a double perspective ... There are different levels of intervention in the field with users, but design is always a social activity. Involvement in situated practice is about people and their activities, and understanding one's social intervention through a piecing-together."

**

"I think there is a role for anthropology along all of the steps of the design process. But of course I would say that. Anthropology can help inspire new designs by providing profiles of users and stories about contexts of use. Anthropologists can play on design teams as designs get developed to sensitize designers to culturally and context specific issues. And finally, anthropologists can evaluate the effectiveness of designs through studies of actual use in context, either prototype, pilot, or after product roll-out."

- Mimi Ito, Interview with Mimi Ito by danah boyd

Today in class we watched Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary on Edward Burtynsky's photos of where things come from. Everyone claimed that technological progress comes with a high price. No one felt they could do anything about it.

Design Education as Applied Anthropology by Anthony Inciong

"Design education for me is an opportunity to connect with the world in a variety of ways. My goal is to exploit a potential – to reveal how an anthropological perspective might be used to raise the potency and relevance of design ... I’m not proposing a creativity-eschewing, scientific study that has us spinning our wheels ... I’m interested in developing a practical method that accounts for our propensities as creative individuals but also facilitates our putting those to use in appropriate ways."

Visualizing Information for Advocacy (pdf) by John Emerson

IxDA video: Ethics of Everyday Design by Gabriel White

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