Anthropology. Ethnography. Maybe you’ve heard these terms floating around; maybe you are even well versed in their meaning. Anthropologists and ethnographers are increasingly being hired at both large technology companies and design agencies. With their growing popularity in the business and design worlds, the two terms often seem to be used as buzzwords, and so we thought it was worth exploring why there is such growing interest in anthropology among companies large and small. I enlisted the help of my good friend Gillian MacDonald, who recently completed a Masters in Applied Cultural Analysis. She spoke with two anthropologists currently working in design to find out more about the work they’re doing and what exactly anthropology can add to the design world.
Her intro below.
My undergraduate degree is in anthropology, and most recently I received a Master’s in applied cultural analysis (which was essentially applied anthropology with a spiffier title). Not really interested in taking the traditional academic route, I started looking into how I could use anthropology in an applied setting. Design was a field that kept popping up over and over again. Many design firms have hired anthropologists as researchers, and strategy and design consultancies are increasingly building up anthropology as a research specialization.
So, the design world is becoming more and more interested in anthropology — why? Well, I see the short answer as: good design is made for people, and anthropology is all about trying to understand people. But I wanted to talk to some experts working in corporate and design anthropology to learn more about their experiences bridging the two fields. What are the benefits of anthropology for design? How is anthropological research used in the types of projects they work on? What challenges do they face in this type of work?