You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘design anthropology’ category.

Michael Wesch at Kansas State recently blogged about how he and his students run their research class.  The quote that hits home: “First off, we organize it as a research group, not a class.”  The rest of the posting describes how this works in more detail.

For the last two years, The Anthro Guys have been doing something very similar.  We run the Institute of Public Anthropology as an anthropological consultancy at the service of Fresno’s non- and for-profit community.  Our mission is to use anthropological skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life in the Central Valley.  The students in our field methods class work the projects we land.  They get real life research experience and our clients gain insight into how to improve the way they serve their clients and customers.  Win-win.


From Left: Dalitso Ruwe, Kim Arnold (back), Jamie San Andres, Dave Moore (back), Felicia Salcido, Elfego Franco (back) and Ashlee Dotson. Alecia Barela not pictured.

Some of this bore fruit that past weekend.  On May 1, seven Fresno State undergrad anthro majors and one recent graduate traveled to SWAA’09 (the Southwestern Anthropological Association conference) in Las Vegas to present findings from Institute of Public Anthropology projects.  Four — Ashlee Dotson, Alecia Barela, Kim Arnold and Dalitso Ruwe — talked about the Library Study, two — Jamie San Andres and Felicia Salcido — about the anthro-architecture collaboration on ArcHop, and two — Elfego Franco and Dave Moore — about using anthro in product development, aka “how anthropology can make you wealthy.”  The audience was particularly attentive at that point.

I, Anthroguy, was there and can tell you that they acquitted themselves superbly (and at the early hour of 8am!) with some astute observations, interpretations and reflections on everything from libraries to urban revitalization to iPhone apps.  “Anthropology: we do more before 9am than most sociologists do in a day!”  😉

Aside from working IPA projects, Dalitso, Elfego and Dave are also in my interdisciplinary anthro-business-engineering class this semester.  The class is actually organized as a start-up venture, and the ten students (three anthros, six entrepreneurship, and one engineer) have been working on developing an iPhone app that will enable electric guitar players to practice anywhere anytime and still have access to all their guitar effects:  “self-expression on the go,” as they say.  The anthro students did fieldwork and design workshops with guitar players to explore how they experience effects pedals and the feasibility of putting it all on an iPhone app.  All the students collaborated to work up a business plan based on the results of that and other research.

So….while the anthros were in Las Vegas, five of their entrepreneurship major classmates were in Chicago at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Day.  IIT requires all students to participate in an interdisciplinary team project centered on an innovative design solution to some socially pressing problem or market need.  On IPRO Day, teams present their projects for judging, and for the last two years I have sent a team from my interdisciplinary class to compete.  Last year, the Fresno State team took the award for best business plan.  This year, the business students from iPhone app team – Jared Apodaca, Jason Tromborg, Donna Dizon, Cesar Sanchez and Lee Vue – presented their business plan.  They didn’t win any prizes, but they were approached by a private investor asking for more financial projections.  (Fingers crossed.)


Guest Author: Felicia Salcido will be blogging with us due to her particular expertise in this area. She is a student of anthropology and a very capable ethnographer. The following is from her:

I began working with the homeless when I received an email from my Professor Hank Delcore, about local architects wanting to build dwellings for the homeless in Fresno. I never worked with the homeless and definitely wanted the chance to be involved with something that would help out the community.

In January I volunteered to help get a head count of the homeless. I spent my afternoon at the Poverello House. The count is done bi annually to help the city and county implement the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. If you did not know this already, the count will provide leaders of the county a better understanding of the number of homeless people.

The Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness was adopted because of this rapidly increasing population of displaced persons. It is about time that the city and county established that homelessness is problem, but what’s next? How does the county end homelessness in ten years? I have been given the opportunity to witness first hand how the community is responding to this plan. It is no secret that there is a need for affordable housing. Yes, it is true that housing costs are low, but it is also true that a large portion people living in Fresno County are going into foreclosure. Thus, the community needs affordable housing. Local architects of Fresno recognized the need for affordable housing and therefore designed and constructed a 350sq ft dwelling that would allow the homeless to live in. The dwellings would be built in a vacated lot in Downtown Fresno. These built dwellings would hope to reduce some of the homelessness in our city.

Where does Anthropology come in? The architects were concerned with the efficiency of living space and wanted to know what the minimum amount of space for a successful dwelling was. A mock up of the dwelling was showcased at Archop night in February and it was the jobs of the student anthropologists/ethnographers to solicit, observe, document and analyze behavioral and communicated responses to the built space. Questions in regards to the built spaced were asked, such as “What do you think about this space?” “Can you imagine yourself living in a space like this?” and “Do you know someone who this space would be perfect for?” The answers were analyzed and conclusions were drawn. The research conducted was used to drive the re-design of the space. I may have more on how the data drove re-design at a later time.

This has been my experience working with the issue of homelessness so far, I am motivated to help in anyway I can and I am privileged that Anthropology has given me this experience. What the local architects are doing is only one step to ending homelessness in Fresno, Ca and I encourage everyone to help in anyway they can. Thanks.

Approaches to Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis

We were recently invited to speak to a class of entrepreneurship students about how anthropology can help students of innovation add value to things.  We suggested the following:

OBJECTIVE: To equip you with a set of inductive observation and analysis tools you can use to improve your entrepreneurship skills.

METHOD: Introducing you to “the ethnographic method” through a explanation of what we call, “ethnographic opportunity analysis”.

BACKGROUND: This approach builds upon “the ethnographic method“, “induction“, design generally and “design anthropology”.

More detailed background can be found in the following articles:

Jon Kolko’s sold out book has a great chapter on Interaction Design here

More of Jon Kolko’s can be found here (use the html version to get all the test)

A article from Interactive Design that I’m still tracking down

SELECTIVE ETHNOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS: Qualitative Modeling For Work Place Ethnography by Maarten Sierhuis

ASSIGNMENT : 1) Conduct some sort of “inductive observation”, 2) analyze your notes, then 3) expand those notes into a brief report about what you found.

DESCRIPTION: Rather than looking into a completely innovative idea (service or product), the goal is to observe something that already works; observe it in great detail; then begin to understand it in such detail that you can make concrete suggestions about improving it.  In other words, rather than looking for how consumers COULD use a NEW service/product, the goal is to observe how consumers DO use a EXISTING service/product with the intention of looking for opportunities to improve or “add value” to that experience.


1. Find a routine, taken-for-granted task/service/product,

2. “Hang out” and “thickly describe” it in a notebook,

3. Suggest some sort of innovation that will add value to it.

The best observations will be published on this blogsite.
We will use the following to assess the quality of the submissions.

In my continual pursuit of finding out what it is that we practicing design anthropologists do, I came across the following description of “User Experience Deliverables”.  The irony of the title grabbed me instantly.  “User Experience” comes from architecture and the arts whereas “deliverables” comes right out of the corporate world of profits, deadlines and bottom lines.  Merging these two is a skillful craft I leave to Peter Morville at SemanticStudios in the following.

User Experience Deliverables

January 27, 2009

It’s an exhilarating time for the user experience community. Rising awareness of our value plus emerging technologies and transmedia trends have created conditions for a step change in our practice.

As an information architect, I’m enjoying the new challenges immensely, even as they sweep me outside my comfort zone. I’ve designed social software and rich user interfaces. I’ve sketched scenarios for the future of mobile search. I’ve mapped the user experience across channels and applications. And, I’ve increasingly found myself striving to clarify ideas for folks in the executive suite.

Consequently, I’m rethinking my role, redefining my deliverables, and embracing new forms of interdisciplinary collaboration. For instance, I’ve ensnared Jeffery Callender as co-author of Search Patterns, a new book (in process) about design for discovery and the future of search.

Read on at User Experience Deliverables.

Fresnans are often perplexed when I say “I practice anthropology” as well as teach it.

Visions of the sexy Indiana Jones aside, the sort of anthropology Hank and I “practice” is sometimes called “Design Anthropology”.  One great example of this sort of thing can be found by visiting the Point Forward’s web experience.


I saw “web experience” intentionally to denote the craft with which they have built their website.  You can be sure that it is a product of the sort of anthropology that they (and we) practice.

I found out about this firm’s web site by following a Google add link that was on my own LinkedIn page – yes apparently the whole “targeted advertising” thing actually works from time to time.  Like all effective web experinces, Point Forward’s site gives much more than it takes.  It not only described but reflexivly illustrates (i.e., it does what it describes) one of the most exciting, emergent areas in anthropology.  I really liked the cases they provided, e.g., the Chick-fil-A case and the Sony case are particularly effective.  They also offer reports for a more in depth look into the wonderful world of Design Anthropology.

RSS TheAnthroGuys Posts