Adonis Diaries

Archive for February 6th, 2012

Design anthropology? Why, are there designs not meant for human?

Apparently, the field of Design anthropology is about 20 years old and is an established concept in industry. The challenge is how to feed this field into academia.

Dori Tunstall said in an interview with  Debbie Millman:

“Design can help make values such as equality, democracy, fairness, integration, connection…(values that we have lost to some extent), more tangible and express how we can use them to make the world a better place…

Design translate values into tangible experiences…”

I though it was the job of laws (civil and religious) to transforming abstract values into tangible concepts and how to modify and change laws into far more explicit clauses to actually explain what we mean by equality, justice, democracy…

Design anthropology is meant to understand how the processes and artifacts define what it means to be human, to figure out how to comprehend people with designs that resonate with people’s experiences…

Practically, how can designs communicate these experiences and expectations?

Tunstall said: “I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but again I wouldn’t be a very good human being: The focus will be narrow and you deal with people in traumatic situations, a condition that pressures you to maintain a distance.

I wanted to understand people in a more intimate, playful way…”

The essential factors that makes us human keep changing.

In one stage, we were defined as tool-makers and we discovered that animals make tools;

We proposed language as the discriminating factor, and we found out that animals use languages too;

We proposed the ability for empathy (caring for others not from our own tribe members) and we realized that animals demonstrated empathy too (like this trained chimp who selected the green cup (two nuts) instead of the red cup so that the other chimp can obtain another nut), or that human are good with symbols and abstract notions…

As our social values change, we tend to see different social relationship in the animal kingdom:  From simple aggressive and hierarchical struggle, to the role of empathy, compassion, trading behaviors…

Mind you that many animals can recognize their individuality by getting exposed to mirrors…

Lately, anthropologists would like us to believe that what discriminate human from the animal kingdom is our flexible abilities to change drastically from hunting, to agriculture, to urban environment…

Or the capabilities to transform things from one energy state to another (rocks and sands to concrete mix, or transforming food ingredients and learning to cook various dishes…);

Or our need to trade specialized objects and services with other communities…

Obviously, mankind is not particular in social structure and division among specialized jobs.  For example, in order to survive the bees are divided into foraging, builders, nursing, undertakers groups and the Queen…

Mankind has yet to overcome the hierarchical structure that is not about to be displaced any time soon…

In a sense, the main discriminating factor is our sense of individuality, of making, designing, and acquiring things that represent our “implicit value system” and distinguish us from our neighbor…

We forget that our bodies are built and defined by the environment, that there is no separation between bodies and nature, or nature and nurture…

I think the “nurture” factor is most predominant in artistic fields: How could you ever become a singer, dancer, painter, musician…if one member of the family or the extended family was not an artist or failed to encourage you to perform artistically?

Worshipping is a process of connecting, a one-to-one chat of “what’s going on with me, what’s going on with you (God), what’s going on with the world”; it is a sense of no longer recognizing the difference between me and anything else, especially, authority figures…

Religion created mediating classes of clerics as it associated with State power, and the ways State structured society…

The levels of interactions in community scales (family, extended family, tribe, village…), and the corresponding social integration have different aesthetic values.

For example, dancing and singing…are means to mapping the particular cosmology onto the landscape. Numbers of tattoos, and shapes of tattoos specify the social status, from single, to married, to married with kids, to killing a lion or any other big animal… Acquiring objects and properties is a “ritual” of distinctive social standing.

The experiment we conduct, what we are looking at, shapes the reality that we investigate.

Social platforms of instant connection and chatting can relieve us from the daily individual reports and thus, saving the valuable face-to-face conversation to deeper engagements…

Building momentum in connecting network with newer technologies extend a sense of optimism because we feel that we are no longer alone and we can establish coalitions and alliances

I can conceive the field of “Design anthropology” as a fundamental first year courses for all the fields meant to understanding mankind behavior such as psychology, sociology, engineering, designers, and particularly in law schools.  Why?

Making abstract value concepts concrete is political in nature: It is the job of the political branch of law givers, mostly elected lawyers.

How can we make democracy concrete without election laws that are fair to all citizens and representing all social classes?

How can we make the concept of equality without anti-discrimination laws with institutions funded to apply and execute these laws?

How can we translate human dignity without laws that demand health prevention system to all citizens, schools to all, prison systems for educating and training detainees, job opening system to providing jobs to every capable citizens…?

Note: Dori Tunstall is associate prof. of design anthropology at Swinburne Univ. of Technology (Australia)

History of Innovation: “Timing is everything”?

History research demonstrates that plenty of valid and sensible innovations never stuck or were adopted by societies. Why?

For example, the printing press could not make much sense in the 16th century Europe if industrial production of current papers were not made available. What was the use of using printing press on archaic parchments and papyrus…?

The influential book “In search of excellence” by Tom Peters was researched in the 70’s but published in 1982, in the right timing for its concepts to take off:  The US was facing around 20% interest rates, 15% inflation, and 11% unemployment (worse than today conditions) and then Donald Reagan was elected President after Jimmy Carter.

“In search of excellence” was mostly promoting the concept of “Brand Yourself”, or everyone must be a brand. The “faceless employee or Badge #129” was being outsourced either to lower cost locations such as China or India, or to software algorithms.

The quality logic is that you have to pay attention to your workforce, the culture for tending to details if you are serious about competing with Japanese quality products…

Currently, KIA cars or Subaru before it are very high in quality: They can run 30,000 miles without ever having to go into a shop.

Timing is everything“.

For example, the US billionaires in the 19th century were mostly born around 1835. They generated their wealth in the railroad, telegraph communication, postal facilities (containers, bill of lading…) oil production, refineries, distribution, media, publishing…Most of the current billionaires are inheritances of the wealth and constitute the “elite class” of 1% richest…

Another example is the top innovators in computer and internet business: They were born around 1955 and enjoyed the facilities of timely innovations and facilities to mark 10,000 hours of practice sessions.

More details

Malcolm Gladwell said in the interview: “When we drive a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt, we are sending this powerful message “These are my values. This is the kind of world I want.”

The declarative value of consumer choices, and the public statement made by consumers in their brand choices, is an enormously powerful tool that has consequences on the economy, the community we live in, the agricultural systems…”

If you think long and hard on a choice, it makes perfect sense of what message you are sending.

There is a paradox. You cannot just focus on “your own brand” to be successful: You badly need the horizontal network of peers and satisfied clients, the extended family of professionals as producers and consumers of quality services.

Note 1:  This post was inspired by Debbie Millman ”Brand thinking and other Noble Pursuits”. This book is a collection of 22 interviews with known brand designers and entrepreneurs such as: Wally Olins, Grant McCraken, Phil Duncan, Dori Tunstall, Brian Collins, Virginia Postrel, Bruce Duckworth, David Butler, Stanley Hainsworth, Cheryl Swanson, Joe Duggy, Margaret Youngblood, Seth Godin, Dan Formosa, Bill Moggridge, Sean Adams, Daniel Pink, DeeDee Gordon, Karim Rashid, Alex Bogusky, Tom Peters, Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2: Debbie is president of design division at Sterling Brands and president of the AIGA design association




February 2012

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