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Baptême du feu: Design Anthropology’s baptism by Fire during the Dot Com Bust

Baptême du feu: Design Anthropology’s baptism by Fire during the Dot Com Bust

During the Dotcom boom in the US, terms such as user-centred research entered the common vernacular of businesses. Corporations started linking the success of a given product in the marketplace to research and design in its development phase.

The dotcom Boom resulted in data being collected in situ in real commercial situations, from real people, in real places. In other words the corporate sector came to the party. However along with this embrace of ethnographic work, the case study was born, and with it the implication that you could make better/more valuable products by applying innovative approaches in design and research. A temporary but glittering bridge was built between the before and after creating a false sense of security that this one way view could lead to more successful businesses.

Questions were raised about the type of research being performed, values, business strategies and skills required within a given project. For example eLab’s emphasis on multidisciplinary work showcases a range of these experiments and collaborations, highlighting the many different field and levels of expertise the collaborators came from. In hindsight, efforts like this lead to high adaptability to change, the hallmark of design anthropology and also started the slow shift from the star individual to highlight the value of collaborative work (Bezaitis 2011, 194).

“In social as well as business context, values have always driven change” – (Benzaitis 2011, 200). Out of the Dotcom bust that followed, positive change came through in the form of corporate social responsibility, environmental and social awareness proving the importance of being explicit about values in an organization along with the importance of sharing and building on existing knowledge. What resonated most with me was the importance of sharing knowledge and being explicit about group and individual values and how they can become aligned.

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References
Bezaitis, M and Robinson, R 2011, ‘Valuable to Values: How ‘User Research’ Ought to Change’, in A Clarke (ed.) Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century, Springer Wien New York, pp. 184-201.

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