Melbourne Trip Day 01
Melbourne Trip Day 04 and 05 Wanderings

Melbourne Trip Day 04 Presentation

So my reason for coming to Melbourne was to give a keynote presentation to Swinburne University and Design Victoria. I am happy to report that my presentation  was a super smash hit. There was a list of 92 people who wanted to fit into the slot of 70 seats. Both the Design Victoria and Swinburne people said they have never had an event with such a diverse audience of Melbourne design schools, the local design industry, and there was even a women from the US Consulate. That freaked me out a bit until she said that she studied anthropology. I may have a future in the state department yet.

I feel indebted to David Womack of Adobe Think Tank for editing my Design Anthropology article such that it was accessible to a lot of people. This was the basis of my talk and the audience really got it; the value and applications of design anthropology. They were able to ask such wonderful questions because David made me explain everything in the most simplest of terms and with tremendous clarity. So as much as I like to trot out my SAT vocab and convoluted theoretical arguments, there is something rewarding about clear and simple communications about something you love. It is especially rewarding when people are able to feel both empowered and inspired, and maybe a little intimidated, by what you have to say. In spite of my two typos, people came up to me and said they found the presentation amazing and hoped that I come and speak again. It was an important reminder that what I am doing is not just cool, but really is meaningful to people. I like that.


Yoko Akama

Hi Dori,
It has been a while since I dropped in your blog - I have done so previously a long time ago - anyway, as I live in Melbourne, I couldn't resist the opportunity to hear you talk at Swinburne and Design Victoria event.

And, I am afraid, I found the concepts you presented troubling. I wonder why my impression contrasts so much with the other positive feedback you have received? This comment is just a way to make sense of how I interpreted your presentation, and wondered what your view/response might be. So here goes.

In order to write this comment, I am going to assume a considerable amount from your presentation - and so firstly allow me to apologise if I had misinterpreted things in anyway.

On one level, I listened to you talk wondering 'what is the difference between what you do, and market research'? , especially where you discussed shampoo products and the men you studied. Is it the methodology? Agenda? Empowerment of the ones studied? This was not clear in the presentation, and hence I didn't get the sense that Design Anthopology (!) was any different to commonly forms of research that many designers are familiar with anyway.

The other level, which to me is more concerning is the way I interpreted how you position yourself as a 'problem solver' - to solve the problem of others. Whether they be problems with signage, voting cards or how the US military might promote themselves. The problem solver paradigm is quite common for designers to adopt - so my positioning against it is in the minority - however, my concern with regards to your position mainly comes from the fact that you do this under the title of 'design for democracy'. We have had similar discussion about this before in my comments, but I guess its a bone I can't stop picking at, and it is because the title 'design for democracy' almost seems contradictory to what it implies. Let me explain.

My understanding of your position as a 'problem solver' seems to me to require an 'objective' stance to the problem solved. Subjects and their living contexts are studied and the problems are identified. The subjects are 'the other'. The problem is viewed at an arms distance, and steps are taken to resolve it to give 'order and clarity' to this world. In this model, the designer is perceived as the person who has the power to 'solve' other people's problems. If we flip this the other way, the 'people' who are studied, then have the designer's way of 'solving problems' imposed on to them - a problem that has been identified by the designer. If we look at this from the point of view of empowerment and democracy, the people are not empowered to change their world in the way they would like to, nor are they given any other choice but to live with what has been 'solved' for them by the designers.

I am reminded of how late (in the 80s) that anthropology realised that anthropologists shouldn't be giving 'labels' and definition (based on their own world view and values) of the subjects they studied. Through 'radical anthropology', they realised how they need to allow the subjects to 'name' themselves. There was a huge shift between the relationship between the researcher and the subject.

Design Anthropology, in the way I have seen you present and write about previously, echoes the pre 80s era of anthropology, which then seemed to have been married to 'design' to reinforce this even further.

Design Anthropology, to me, is patronising and misguided. As a designer, I really see no value in approaching design in this way. The point that Design Anthropology misses is, how complex the world and people really are. Design Anthropology positions the designer researcher as a removed observer, and there is no empathy to really understand that things aren't that simple. Designer researchers may have the best, misguided intentions to make the world a better place for other people, but the solution that they come up with only serves to satisfy and satiate the way they themselves would like the world to be.

Harsh words - but looking forward to your response.

The comments to this entry are closed.