Design Anthropology

As a transdisciplinary area of research and practice, Design Anthropology is not located in any one field or area of expertise, but is representative of a whole spectrum of diverse relationships that have historically formed between the fields of design and anthropology, as well as other intersecting fields. This group was formed to follow these broader fields, subfields, and their relationships as a transdisciplinary epistemological construct of design anthropology along a spectrum within four specific quadrants: anthropology relevant to design, anthropology of design, design of anthropology, and anthropological design. Situating these many meanings of design anthropology as holistically constitutive of it in the gestaltic sense.

As a transdisciplinary, collaborative, and still contested field, the objective of this group is to raise public awareness of the diversity of research and practice and their related themes that consistently cluster as a design anthropological discourse. It is one of the only spaces on the internet where this diversity of research and practice is actively organized collectively as design anthropology. Making resources more accessible to those across the spectrum in order to:

1. Establish and explore how Design Anthropology fits into or supplements the varied practices and objectives of design (including and across commercial design, speculative design, critical design, design fiction, transition design, ecological design, social design, decolonized design, sustainable design, participatory design, co-design, etc.), anthropology, futures studies, STS, and society writ large.

2. Contribute to the development and evolution of a more inclusive and holistic pedagogy of design anthropology.

3. Open up a dialogue between designers, anthropologists, researchers, engineers and potential clients leading to greater participation, adoption, and even new collaborative partnerships.

Members: 16
Latest Activity: Nov 19, 2019

Video Presentations On Design Anthropology

Design Anthropology: A new style of research and action by Ton Otto:

Interactive Exhibitions at The Design Anthopological Futures Conference:

Video Stream of Design Anthropological Futures Conference:

Research Network for Design Anthropology (2014-2015):

Discussion Forum

REVIEW: ‘What the Anthropologist sees: Public toilets as cultural spaces’

This is a brief review/clarification of…Continue

Started by Brandon Meyer Nov 13, 2019.

Anthropology + Design Graduate Seminar @ The New School | Fall 2019 | Shannon Mattern

"Designers commonly use ethnographic methods, and social scientists often adopt design practices, economies, cultures, and artifacts as their subjects of study, focusing in particular on how design…Continue

Started by Brandon Meyer Aug 24, 2019.

Speculative Futures Slack Group

The Speculative Futures Slack Group is quickly becoming a great virtual meeting place for those interested in the…Continue

Started by Brandon Meyer Jul 20, 2019.

Personal Introduction

I have worked as a web and graphic designer and was originally a multimedia design major before deciding to transfer to anthropology with the goal of advancing to design anthropology. Since my time…Continue

Started by Brandon Meyer Feb 25, 2014.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Brandon Meyer on November 12, 2019 at 9:28pm

The Prospective Power of Design

Design was always associated to representing the future through form, however, there is a new paradigm that associates design with prospecting future functions and structures. This entails a new attitude that looks at relations instead of objects.

Comment by Brandon Meyer on November 8, 2019 at 4:37pm

Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Fu...

"Transformative scenario planning can be useful to people who find themselves in a situation that has the following three characteristics. First, these people see the situation they are in as unacceptable, unstable, or unsustainable... Second, these people cannot transform their situation on their own or by working only with their friends and colleagues... Third, these people who need to work together are too polarized to be able to approach this work head-on... Transformative scenario planning is not a way for actors to adapt to a situation or to force its transformation or to implement an already-formulated proposal or to negotiate between several already-formulated proposals... It is a way for people to work cooperatively and creatively on complex problematic situations that they want to transform but cannot transform unilaterally or directly."

Comment by Brandon Meyer on November 6, 2019 at 12:01am

Spectacles and Tropes: Speculative Design and Contemporary Food Cul... by Carl DiSalvo

"Speculative design is a particularly inventive mode of design that is concerned with developing imaginative futures or alternate presents... Like all design, speculative design reproduces as well as invents culture and there are limits to the work it does... The notion that the images and objects can spark meaningful reflection or dialogue is the potential of speculative design, but it is also the aspect of speculative design that is most problematic because it has been the least well documented, is the most difficult to ascertain, and too often simply does not come to fruition... In this essay, I trace the ways speculative design reproduces contemporary food cultures through two projects: Guide to Free Farming (2009) and Family Whiskey (2010). From these projects I draw out and discuss two strategies of speculative design: the use of spectacle and the use of tropes. I describe how these strategies work to attract us to images and objects, and I identify their limits in providing content, meaning, and significance. In concluding, I consider how speculative design might enable more substantive engagement with issues."

Comment by Brandon Meyer on November 5, 2019 at 11:58pm

2019 Cumulus Conference Proceedings: The Design After

"In the dawn of the new millennium, design is experiencing a moment of expansion, recognition, mutation and integration, other disciplines would envy. It retains its aura and transcends the realm of the tangible becoming a form of thought, dialogue and ontology. The turn of the millennium has staged disruptions and catastrophes... In the absence of better words, the 'post' prefix has characterized the last half-century: postmodern, postfeminist, post capitalist, post humanist, post truth. Before creating post design, would it be worth thinking about an after design? Can design capture another vision of the human being, cultures and ecosystems that surround humans? Have designers thought about what will happen next? We manage to debate emerging issues, without fear of experimental vocabularies while being critical, collaborative and speculative. Design today is transdisciplinary and plural. When design is about thinking in action and transition, it questions its original logic and gives birth to diversity."

Comment by Brandon Meyer on November 4, 2019 at 10:22pm

The Global Futures Lab

Critical design, speculative design and design fiction are methodological frameworks in which objects are seen as facilitators of conversations rather than goods to be bought or used... In the last decade, an impressive creative effort has been dedicated to this field, producing countless scenarios and fostering rich debates about ethics, technology and society. [However], the vast majority of these future visions were and still are, a representation of the fears and the dreams of a limited part of the global community. Further, the aesthetic of this work has drawn liberally from the Hollywood imaginary or the design establishment’s style. The Global Futures Lab is a series of international workshops that aims to counteract the bias and stereotypes of so-called 'Western futures' and foster different futures linked to specific geo-cultural locations."

Comment by Brandon Meyer on October 18, 2019 at 9:04pm

Letters South of (Nordic) Design: an epistolary article on the 2017 Nordes Conference Theme, Design + Power

"...Such is my hypothesis: there is design (or its equivalent) in every social group. It would suffice to think of the amount of artefacts made by designers in comparison to those made by 'non-designers.' This reinforces the notion of 'majority world,' proposed by Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam (2008) as a replacement for concepts as 'third world' countries and 'developing world,' noting that that which is considered secondary is usually much larger than that considered as reference... Let me remind you that in Chinese, Arabic, Hindi and many indigenous languages of the world, there's not an etymological trace of the word 'design' (with its European roots); however, there are terms referring to 'forms of prefiguring artefacts' that could be considered equivalent to practices of what in the west is considered design; I call those practices 'designs with other names'."

Comment by Brandon Meyer on October 3, 2019 at 12:40am

Design & Culture Special Issue: Design and Neoliberalism

"Neoliberalism, as a term, has the particular distinction of being both esoteric and overused. Until quite recently, it was rarely heard outside of academic contexts, while within them it became virtually a shorthand for contemporary capitalism and its myriad social manifestations... This special issue (SI) of Design & Culture examines some of the ways that such developments have both expanded and constricted the purview of design, as well as ways that design has shaped and continues to shape processes of neoliberalization. A key premise of this SI is that contemporary design is not merely an outcome of or response to neoliberalism but also an important contributing factor in its articulation and implementation... Thus, while neoliberalism has been used as an analytic within fields in which the design object’s relation to capital is obvious, many design scholars have not adequately considered the ways the expansion and dematerialization of design (e.g. Design Thinking, mechanism design, user experience design (UX), etc.) represents a cutting edge of neoliberalism... Each of the following four papers not only describes different articulations of these dynamics but also offers distinct disciplinary positions, objects of study, and critical strategies to explore them."

Comment by Brandon Meyer on October 3, 2019 at 12:39am

Swiss Design Network Summit: Beyond Change, "Questioning the role of design in times of global transformations" Keynotes

Current discourse in design research, art, cultural studies, media studies, philosophy, and the social sciences is dominated by the much-debated concept of the “Anthropocene,” which claims that we are entering a new geological age determined primarily by the effects of human activity on the planet. It has been used to increase awareness of the negative influence of our actions on climate and the environment, and thus on the terms and conditions of our long-term survival. Against the backdrop of ongoing catastrophe and normalised crisis, the image of designers as problem-solvers and shapers of material-visual culture is constantly evoked. Designers are expected to come to the rescue and to draft speculative scenarios, construct artificial worlds, and develop smart solutions. In short: design is wielded as a catalyst for global change.

But isn’t this image of the designer as an omnipotent problem-solver itself problematic? What if design is not the solution, but very much complicit in the problems it wants to solve? At this point, we feel compelled to ask: How can design truly contribute to a more just society and sustainable forms of living without compromising bottom-up initiatives and marginalising the voices of those who are most directly affected?

Our conviction is: Design cannot change anything before it changes itself. The conference “Beyond Change: Questioning the role of design in times of global transformation” is a critical response to the tendency of seeing global crisis first and foremost as a worldwide design competition. How can we reimagine design as an unbounded, queer, and unfinished practice that approaches the world from within instead of claiming an elevated position? How, for once, can we see design as a situated practice instead of turning it into the Global North’s escape and problem-solving strategy? How can we think about one world without falling into planetary-scale thinking and the idea that resilience is our only hope?

Comment by Brandon Meyer on October 3, 2019 at 12:32am

FREE eBOOK: Speculate This!

Speculate This! is a concise, provocative manifesto advocating practices of "affirmative speculation" over and against "firmative speculation." "Firmative speculation is 'a firming [...] or solidifying of the possibilities of the future. It is a speculative mode that seeks to pin down, delimit, constrain, and enclose - to make things definitive, firm' (12). The manifesto is interested in how firmative speculation is a central orientation of contemporary capitalism, which 'operates as if everything in the future were representable, knowable, and calculable in principle' (10)... Understood in this way (firmative speculation) 'produces potentialities and then exploits and thus forecloses them' (27). In contrast to firmative speculation, 'affirmative speculation'; a mode of speculation concerned 'to hold on to the spectrum of possibilities while remaining open to multiple futures whose context of actualization can never be fully anticipated' (13). - Rebecca Coleman

Comment by Brandon Meyer on October 3, 2019 at 12:30am

Strategic Design Research Journal Special Issue: Designing, Sensing...

We want to contribute to the emerging debate on design’s role in the creation of the very worlds within which we live, the conditions for plural possibilities of being, and in critically self reflecting on the conditions, infrastructures, networks and scaffolds that world-making in our troubled times require. It should not come as a surprise that calls for a reorientation of the design disciplines, away from the functionalist, rationalist, and industrial traditions dominant for most of their history are surfacing today... These moves have led to ever-encompassing claims that design expertise and processes are able to achieve innovation that can lead to forms of social change, while contributing to productivity and competitiveness... This type of contribution seems to be quite a challenge for design, even within the above-mentioned trends... as editors, designers and design scholars, we were wondering about the relation between autonomía, design practices and the political activation of relational and communal logics and ways of being, and how they could manifest –or not– in current design research and practice.



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