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Seeding of a Practice: Design Anthropology’s European rise 1970s

Seeding of a Practice: Design Anthropology’s European rise 1970s

Here are some of the questions that were asked during the Studio 54 Era in Design Anthroplogy on the European Continent:

  • How do we give our end users a voice?
  • How do we improve our methodologies so new process can be created to benefit everyone involved in the project development cycle?
  • How can we democratise the use of technology and what does this mean for our users/designer/researchers/management/engineers?

The utopia project in its first reincarnation, served to show that using the proper context, a spirit of corporation and involvement of users can be a powerful elixir and lead to successful technology design. This collaborative design process has over the last 20 years metamorphosed into the “communities of practice” perspective prevalent in our understanding of design and learning today. The second reincarnation of the utopia project (AT) demonstrated that it is not enough to come up with a workable solutions, processes must be put in place to ensure that the organization is capable of confidently maintaining its new competence and not falling victim to its own power struggles. Here education, and complete support by all stakeholders were prescribed as antidotes (Bødker, Sjögren & Sundblad 2000, 3).

It is hard to imagine a collaborative approach without somehow linking it to some type of action and reflection on work practices. Companies such as Bang & Olufsen, Danfoss and Kommunedata, embraced collaborative design and were eager to “move out of the lab and into the field”, increase user involvement in their product development and enhance cooperation between their usability and development groups in their companies (Bødker, Sjögren & Sundblad 2000, 4).

It takes time to move from a seed of an idea to actually see sweeping changes in a society. In the 20 years since the utopia project, European work practices have moved from controlling people in their work environment to workers being in control of the technology at their work place and actively participating in dialogue with management. I think the fact that the unions did and still actively advocate on behalf workers and are engaged with participatory change in the workplace is a wonderful practice. Surprisingly I see no similar examples of this in Australia. With all this social change, the practice of design anthropology has also changed in Europe. It has gone from being a politicized practice with a focus mainly on democratizing the workplace and being “weak on design practices”, to advocating active participation and confidently focusing its efforts on the “quality of user experience” (Bødker, Sjögren & Sundblad 2000, 7).


Susanne Bødker, PE, Dan Sjögren & Yngve Sundblad 2000, Co-operative Design — perspectives on 20 years with ‘the Scandinavian IT Design Model’, Centre for User Oriented IT Design (CID), Stockholm, Sweden, viewed 7 October 2011.

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