Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Design anthropology

Human Factors in Design

The term Design is all the rage.

Any professional in any field feels it imperative to add Design in the title.

Engineers, graphic professionals, photographers, dancers, environmentalists, climatologists, scientists… they all claim to be designers first.

And this is very refreshing.

Have you heard of this new field of Design Anthropology?

Dori Tunstall said in an interview with  Debbie Millman:

Design translate values into tangible experiences…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…”

Looks like Tunstall expanded the term design to overlap with the political realm of Congress jobs, law makers, political parties, election laws…

It is about time that everyone “think design” when undertaking any project or program

Anything we do is basically designed, explicitly or implicitly: Either we are generating products and programs for mankind, or it is mankind who is in charge of executing, controlling and managing what has been conceived.

So long as human are directly involved in using a product or a program, any design must explicitly study and research the safety, health, and mistakes that the operators and users will encounter.

Must as well that the design be as explicit in the attributes of health, safe usage, errors that might generate serious consequences, materially, mentally or physically.

Four decade ago, there was a field of study called Human Factors.

The term Human Factors was considered too general to be taken seriously in Engineering.

The implicit understanding was that “Of course, when an engineer designs anything, it is the human who is targeted….”

However, besides applying standards and mathematical formulas, engineers are the least concerned directly with the safety, health of users: The standards are supposed to take care of these superfluous attributes…

And who are the people concerned in setting standards?

Standards are arrived at in a consensus process between the politicians and the business people, and rarely the concerned users and consumers are invited to participate in the debate, except in later sessions when standards are already drafted…

And how explicitly experiments were designed to allow users to test, and give feedback to any kinds of standards, handed down from successive standard sets…?

Countless engineers and scientists are directly engaged in putting rovers on Mars and launching shuttles and… and the human in the project is taken for granted…

If you ask them whether they have human factors engineers in their teams, they don’t understand what you mean.

The project is supposed to be an engineering project, and “where the hell did you bring this human thing in the picture?”

Anything that is designed must consider the health, safety, and how a person from various ages, genders, and ethnic idiosyncracies might use the product or the program

Take all the time in design process. People are not supposed to be used as ginea pigs for any redesigned process… after countless lawsuits, pains, suffering…

This is a preliminary draft. Any input and replies?


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)




June 2023

Blog Stats

  • 1,522,144 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 770 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: