Looking to get a jump on an elective for our upcoming User Experience Design certificate? This quarter, enroll in Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign (Online). Instructor Zelda Harrison was kind enough to tell us more:
Why is this course important for my design education?
Most of us understand the immediate benefit of living and working in a global economy. A significant number of us will collaborate with colleagues and clients in another country, and even locally, we will be called upon to develop products and communication for people who either speak a different language and/or live very differently from us.
The good news is that technology has provided us with the tools to communicate and work effectively across time zones and geographical locations. The trick is in managing the “soft skills” by developing a toolkit that takes into account the audience’s culture and values. It should be noted that when we speak of “culture,” we are talking about generational and lifestyle differences too, not just ethnic differences.
Anthrodesign is not “politically-correct” design or “designing to appeal to everyone.” The Anthrodesigner is like a detective, using anthropological observation techniques to develop an awareness of the end user, and inform herself about appropriate design choices.
When people ask you what you do, how do you explain it?
I work primarily as a designer in visual communications. I also explain that I specialise in anthrodesign, which means I have developed tools that allow me to discern the audience’s values and priorities, and therefore communicate more effectively with them.
What will I take away from this course?
In addition to honing your skills as a designer, you will have a better grasp of the research methods and how to apply them. Many designers are pretty happy with applying their skills, coming up with concepts and then perfecting the visual product.
But there are important industry changes for the designer : in a service-based economy, the “communication” and “functional” aspect of our work is informing more and more the “visual” aspect, so our primary vocation is engaging people by appealing to their values and environment, not just their taste. To do this effectively, you must “walk in the user’s shoes.”
In addition to this, many designers are now working “in-house” which means they are obliged to work on multi-disciplinary teams with non-designers. It also means that designers must understand the business and marketing aspects of the projects, ie., the audience’s needs, and participate in defining the message and product to the audience.
In my opinion, this role enhances the value of design, but it also means increased commitment and responsibility from the designer, beyond concept and design execution.
What are companies looking for when they hire an “AnthroDesigner” both in terms of skills and portfolio?
There are very few hiring companies who will reject a designer with a portfolio that demonstrates an acute understanding of the target audience and with the research and working papers to back it up. Naturally, the design and messaging need to be consistent with findings and definition of the target audience. This is something we will explore thoroughly in the class.
In the “real world,” selling/being paid the time to conduct research or dissect the target audience is very difficult, especially to small and medium sized businesses. The purpose of this class to give participants the space and time to develop analytical tools that will make them efficient and persuasive. I believe these tools will carry them for the rest of their careers.
What could be a challenge for students this class?
I can’t argue enough in support of the time honoured matra that “form follows function.” A colleague of mine, Mr. Peji, takes it a step further by asserting “form follows culture.” Students will be encouraged to use their skills and talent to define a creative brief and concepts based not on their own experiences, but on the audience’s.
Students who are unable to “walk in the shoes of the user” will find this challenge, hopefully one worth taking on.
Do you have a sample exercise/assignment?
Yes, my group, the Center for CrossCultural Design, has been compiling examples of great design inspired by anthropological investigation and crosscultural awareness.
We organised a competition to explore the application of design and culture and gave the first prize to Beth Shirrell from Kentucky. Here’s what she had to say about her work :
“Kalakari translates from Hindi to English to mean ornamentation. I explored typographic expression by creating a display font that captures and reflects the ornate culture of India. Specifically taking impetus from the countries architecture, the ancient art of henna painting, and Hindu iconography. The font is a collection of 26 majuscule forms that make up the English alphabet. The collection is entitled Kalakari Display.”
Design Researchers can be the designer’s closest collaborator and partner. For those interested in understanding the landscape of design research, check out this article by Uday Dandavate of SonicRim.
You are also welcome to explore the Center’s activity on our blog and facebook. You’ll find a smagasbord of topics ranging from geopolitics and economics to design and culture. I believe this reflects a reality of most skilled anthrodesingers : polymath approach to audiences is critical.