Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Design Anthropology Course - Version 1.0 2.0

After sorting out the differences between what I want to do with my second-year design anthropology course and my third-year design+culture course, I've finally managed to come up with a draft for the first one. I haven't worked out all the details yet, and I'm not at all sure I've got it right, so I'm posting it here in the hope of getting some comments and suggestions that will make it better. By way of introduction, I should point out that I really want to focus on doing design research. I haven't assigned mandatory readings for class each week, but am in the process of compiling a reserve reading list for students who want to learn more. Most of our work, then, will be studio and assignment based. (The assignments are very general here, but will have much more detailed instructions.)


Designers have always been interested in how people interact with each other and the world around them, but the past decade has witnessed increased attention to how these interests are shared with anthropology. From concerns about how different people live, to ways of understanding material and visual culture, this course will take a critical and creative look at how designers can draw from methods used by anthropologists to better understand the contexts of their designs—and engage with a variety of people, places and objects in productive ways. A combination of lectures, studio practice and hands-on assignments will focus on how anthropologists and designers know and make things. Students can expect to explore new ways of thinking, doing and making, and in the process, develop a foundational toolkit for conducting their own anthropologically-informed design research practice.


Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: The Ethics of Working with People, Pt I Salmer fra kjøkkenet (Kitchen Stories) Directed by Bent Hamer, Norway, 2003, 95 min. + discussion
Week 3: The Ethics of Working with People, Pt II Ethnographic authority & codes of conduct
Week 4: Collecting Information & Making Things, Pt I Surveys, participant observation & interviews
Week 5: Collecting Information & Making Things, Pt II Cultural probes, prototypes & workshops
Week 6: Documenting Your Fieldwork, Pt I Field notes, maps, sketches, photos, video& audio
Week 7: Documenting Your Fieldwork, Pt II Online & offline archives
Week 8: Making Sense of What You See, Do & Make, Pt I Texts, images & objects
Week 9: Making Sense of What You See, Do & Make, Pt II Ethnographic & design fictions
Week 10: Presenting Your Design Research, Pt I Written & visual ethnography
Week 11: Presenting Your Design Research, Pt II Material & performance ethnography
Week 12: Open topic to be decided by students


Students are expected to attend class weekly and actively participate in studio activities and discussions. (Due Weekly – 10%)

Assignment 1 – The Joys and Sorrows of Encountering Others

Students are required to read a selection of fictional narratives that describe cross-cultural encounters and reflect on the history, politics and ethics involved in these relationships. Using these writings and reflections as inspiration, students must write a personal essay (500 words) that describes their understanding of social ethics–i.e. being accountable to, and for, others –and how this might shape their approach to design research. (Due Week 5 – 20%)

Assignment 2 – Domestic Design: Probing Culture

For their major project, students will be provided with a choice of domestic design briefs. In order to collect and analyse contextual information relevant to this project, students are first required to construct and deploy a “cultural probe” (cf. Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti 1999). Students must then use the information collected to formulate a design concept and use scenario. (Due Week 7 – 30%)

Assignment 3 – Domestic Design: Evaluating Prototypes
Students are required to prototype and test their design with 2-3 people who participated in the cultural probe phase of research. Students must use the results of this research to critically evaluate their prototype(s) and present final design specifications and use scenarios. (Due Week 12 – 40%)

So. What's good? What sucks?

UPDATED 14/01/10 Revision to assignments: Assignment 1 changed to Project 1, reduced in length and weight to 10%. Project 2 as follows:

Project 2 –Probing Domestic Culture & Design
For their major project, students will be provided with a choice of domestic design briefs and will be required to work progressively and iteratively through a set of related design research assignments.
Assignment 1 – Understanding Cultural Probes
Due Week 5 – 15%
Students are required to review 3 books and/or journal articles that address the design research methodology of “cultural probes” and submit an annotated bibliography.

Assignment 2 – Designing Cultural Probes
Due Week 7 – 20%
Students are required to design a cultural probe kit that contains the necessary tools for 2 participants to collect and create information relevant to the student’s chosen design brief.

Assignment 3 – Deploying Cultural Probes
Due Week 12 – 30%
Students are required to distribute approved cultural probe kits to 2 people (consenting family and/or friends) for a period of 7 days. Using the results of the probes, students must generate and refine design concepts in order to represent 2 possible design scenarios through writing, drawing, photos, sound and/or film.
I'm particularly interested in pushing/testing the boundaries of cultural probes - especially as tools that are more "informational" than "inspirational" - and so a lot more effort will need to be put into the assignment details, but this points at where I want to go...


Blogger mattward said...

Hey Anne, looks great.I have two main thoughts;

I think you're trying to cram too much in. Each of the 12 sessions seem to be covering a lot of ground. I'm not sure I'd try to cover so much, I think you could cut it by 50% and still offer an amazing course.

My second issue would be about the timings and ambition of the assignments - it seems really tight & tough. Is this the only things that they'll be doing? If not, then to design, prototype, put into use, interview and evaluate a piece of work in 5 weeks is really tough. Maybe cut back on one of the deliverables - i.e. do the cultural probe (which to design successfully is a big ask in itself), then generate ideas, develop them, and represent the best through scenarios building, drawings and/or film.

hope the comments help.


Blogger k said...

anne, can i just say how happy i am you are blogging again - so inspiring!

Blogger Anne said...

Thanks Matt - this is very helpful! You know, I assigned too much last year as well... It seems that social science and design courses have very different workloads and apparently I haven't succeeded in re-adjusting my expectations yet ;)

I'd like to keep the lecture & studio structure as it is for one main reason: I want to give enough of a (broad and shallow) survey that students will know how to choose appropriate higher-level (narrow and deep) courses as they move through their degree. Does this make sense?

But I think you're completely right about the assignments. I can scale down the first assignment, and make the second assignment larger overall, but divided into a bunch of smaller assignments that can replace the third assignment. I'll update the post when I sort that out :)

Blogger Anne said...

thanks k - whoever and whereever you are :)


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