a conversation about ethnographic methods

Design Anthropology at AAA 2016

This year, the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropology Association was held in Minneapolis, MN.  Our session on Design Anthropology was organized by Christine Miller and Emilie Hitch, and sponsored by the National Association for Practicing Anthropology (NAPA).

Some of the papers from this session are available below.

Design Anthropology: Discovery and Evidence of Emerging Pathways in Anthropology

Design anthropology is an emerging transdisciplinary field that brings together design’s fundamental orientation to change and critical anthropological perspectives in a radical approach to future-making characterized by “inclusive, collective, and public approaches” (Ehn, Nilsson, & Topgaard, 2014). Design anthropology is practiced in many different ways depending on the purpose of the study or project, the client, the composition of the research team, the context, and the community or “users” who are the subjects of the study. Design anthropology reflects a shift from stasis to process that extends the ethnographic gaze (Halse, 2013). This shift is at the heart of design anthropology practice and key to capturing the position of the anthropologist as both an observer of the transformative process while simultaneously being an active agent within it.

The diversity of design anthropology praxis is broadly evident in two main streams, one represented by the EPIC community (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) and the other as it has evolved in Europe and Scandinavia with strong ties to the tradition of participatory design. The EPIC community is rooted in business anthropology and strong business and corporate affiliations. The locus of design anthropology as it is evolving in Scandinavia and Europe tends to be centered in academic institutions, for example, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK) which hosts the website of the Research Network for Design Anthropology (

In spite of this diversity, design anthropology embodies an emerging set of principles that define design anthropological practice. These principles include commitments to transdisciplinarity and collaborative process, participatory design that includes a wide range of stakeholders, ongoing methodological experimentation and design for social impact. Design anthropological projects are characterized by rigorous critique and iterations that take into account both intended and unintended consequences of proposed designed artifacts. The explicit aim, to achieve transdisciplinary collaboration, challenges team members to articulate and demonstrate how their individual contributions add value to the project. It requires thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries and subordinating individual disciplinary biases, focusing instead on the dynamics of whole systems and what other disciplinary perspectives can contribute and how they can add value.

Presenters will explore various forms and traditions of practice within design anthropology.

Conference presentations

We are in discussions about perhaps turning the presentations into a journal issue. 

Designing Design Education (a Whiteboard@SonicRim event)

Where should we draw the boundaries of design education?

Design has been considered to encompass all kinds of things — from a safety pin to a highway.  It involves the development of hardware and software. Its scope involves tangible and intangible domains of human life.

The practice of design has come a long way since Bauhaus, the purpose of which was to counter the effect of the Industrial Revolution. What purpose should design serve today? What should be the basic skills, values  and tools for tomorrow’s designers be?

Does design education need to be redesigned keeping in mind the forces that shape our lives and aspirations today?

You are invited to a whiteboard session at SonicRim on Friday January 29th to collaboratively sketch out the contours of the design education of the future.

If you are a designer, design educator, design student or person who works professionally with designers, you will have something to contribute. Design Education needs disruptive innovation.

Come join us!

Please RSVP at this Eventbrite page


What is a ‘whiteboard’ session?
Every so often we host a facilitated discussion in our offices, using a large whiteboard to explore topics of interest to people in the design/research/innovation disciplines. Whiteboard sessions are informal, inter-disciplinary, inclusive, and fun.

It’s a working day… Can I come late?
Absolutely! We don’t start discussing till 3pm. The first hour is for mingling.

What are my transport/parking options getting to the event?
There are four parking garages nearby on Townsend street, two between 2nd and 3rd, and two between 3rd and 4th streets. Street parking might be available, but watch out for tow-away spots that start at 4pm. We are 5 minutes walk or less from Caltrain and Muni stations.

Where can I contact the organizer with any questions?
You can email and someone will get back to you.

When Friday, January 29, 2016 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM (PST) – Add to Calendar
Where SonicRim – 665 3rd St. Suite 410. San Francisco, CA 94107 – View Map

EPIC 2013 in London

The Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) was held in London this year.  You can follow the organizers on Twitter and/or read the Twitter stream (hashtags #epic2013, #epicsocial, #epicthd).  There is also a Flickr site, though our pictures seem to be mixed in with an event at the Jewish Federation of NY, which makes for an interesting contrast.  For a minute there I was thinking … were there really people in full-length gowns at the dinner and I just missed it?!

I just didn’t have it in me to do real-time blogging this year … and with the tragically limited wifi it was hard to even get a timely tweet out.  But James Turner (@JamesAsterisk) did an amazing job real-timing blogging EPIC2013, so if you want to read a summary, that’s a great starting place!  The draft proceedings may still be online, though they usually come down after the event.  Though – bonus! – now the proceedings from years past are now available on the conference website.

It was great to be there and re-connect with members of the anthrodesign community!  Here are a few pictures from our gathering at Bill’s in Soho.  We had a good English breakfast with “bubble & squeak”.  Don’t know what that is?  It’s a hashbrown alternative made with mashed potato and peas.  The British really seem to like their peas – I think they were in every single meal I ate in London!


If I had remembered to order gluten-free bread I would have finished everything on the plate!

Here is a picture of the chatty attendees:


At the end of the table is Elena O’Curry (Groupon), and going counter-clockwise from there is Nelle Steele (Microsoft), Alex (Pitney Bowes), Paul Klipp (independent), Todd Harple (Intel), Martha Cotton (GravityTank), Martin Ortlieb (Google), Sam Ladner (Microsoft), Steven Garcia (UNT), Erin Taylor (post-doc University of Lisbon), me (ZS Associates), and Gordon Baty (Gannett).

Also also a picture of me (right) in the library of the Royal Institution of Science with Tracey Lovejoy (EPIC co-founder) and Ed Leibow (now president of the American Anthropology Association).

epic library

And here is a picture of the lovely ladies of Microsoft (Sam Ladner, Nelle Steele, Tracey Lovejoy) sitting in the Faraday Theatre at the Royal Institute:

microsoft ladies

It was great to catch up with them and many more over the course of the conference …

EPIC 2014 will be at the Fordham University Business School in New York City – I hope to see you there!

Anthrodesign meetup in Hong Kong-22 May at 8pm-3rd floor Hyde Bar

Elaine Ann and Julien Cayla are organizing a meetup on anthrodesigners in Kong Kong on May 22nd at 8pm at Hyde. Anyone interested in user experience, design, anthropology, business and the cross-pollination between these different fields is welcome to join us.

Venue: Hyde Bar-2-3/F, 3RD FLOOR, Lyndhurst Building, Lyndhurst Terrace, Central

Time: 22nd May at 8:00 pm. Reservation under the name of Elaine Ann

About the organizers:


Elaine Ann is the founder of Kaizor Innovation, a strategic innovation consulting company uniquely positioned to help develop appropriate innovation strategies, research and designs for the emerging China market.

Born and raised in Hong Kong and having lived in the U.S. for 12 years, her bi-cultural and bilingual background help clients obtain unique insights and bridge behavioral, cultural, social and political differences between markets. She is well versed and can write in both Chinese (PuTongHua & Cantonese) and English. Elaine brings to Asia processes of new product innovation and user-centered design methodologies.

Prior to moving back to Hong Kong, she lived in the United States from 1990-2002. While in the U.S., she worked as a director in the Fitch Interaction group in San Francisco and also at Razorfish and Henry Dreyfuss Associates in New York. Her past clients include Hewlett-Packard, Philips, Kodak, Charles Schwab, Federal Reserve, Intuit, SRI (Stanford Research Institute), Nissan, Fujitsu, PCCW (Pacific Century Cyber Works), Lan Kwai Fong, iMerchants etc.

Elaine graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s degree in Interaction Design and her undergraduate degree in Visual Communications and Business Management (minor).


Julien Cayla is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Nanyang Business School, Singapore, Visiting Professor at Euromed Management, Marseille, and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Asian Consumer Insight in Singapore.

Professor Cayla received his PhD from the University of Colorado (Boulder, United States) where he majored in marketing and minored in cultural anthropology. His dissertation on the Indian advertising world received several national awards, including the MSI Alden Clayton Award and the Sheth Award.

In his research, he tries to integrate anthropological theories and methodologies to the study of marketing in the global marketplace. His work has been published in outlets such as the Journal of Consumer Research, the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of International Marketing and the International Marketing Review. His edited book titled Inside Marketing was recently published by Oxford University Press. His work on ethnography in the corporate world is forthcoming at the Journal of Marketing.

Anthrodesign Event in Singapore-27 March

Title: Ethnography in Business: Applications to New Product Development

Date: 27 March 2013
Time: 5.30pm – 8.30pm
Venue: Potential – Floor 13, Connexis (North tower), Fusionopolis (MRT Circle Line: one-north)
(RSVP by: 22 March 2013 to Norfadhilah at )

5.30pm – Registration
6.00pm –  Ethnography in Business in Asia: Some stories of use – by Juliana Koh and Manisha Dikshit
7.00pm – Refreshment
7.30pm – Ethnographic Films and Business – Julien Cayla
8.30pm – End

Over the last few years, new markets and consumer segments have opened in Asia and digitisation has changed existing cultures rapidly. Corporates in Asia have become interested in the idea of using Ethnography to understand their users and relevant cultures. This presentation shares stories from the field and our experience as researchers using Ethnography for commercial organisations. The presentation talks about the processes, methods, tools and outcomes of using Ethnography. It discusses the benefits of this as well as the constraints, challenges and misconceptions in the area.

About the Speakers
Manisha’s love for looking into the real lives of people and being touched by the humanity of day to day life is what has kept her interested in the commercial world of Qualitative research for more than 20 years.  Her aim has been to tell the stories of consumers to inspire brands to bring about change. Manisha specialises in research in the early stages of product development and has been involved in new product development, positioning and consumer profiling work across Asia Pacific and Middle East region.

Juliana started her journey as researcher as a hard core Econometrician.  By chance she was drawn into the Qualitative world and became intrigued by the emotional and psychological aspects of consumer behaviour and cultures. Since then she has been immersed in understanding consumers, what drives them and uses this understanding to provoke and inspire clients and be a catalyst for change.

Manisha and Juliana are the founders of Consumer Faces Pte.Ltd.

Julien Cayla is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Nanyang Business School and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Asian Consumer Insight in Singapore. Professor Cayla received his PhD from the University of Colorado (Boulder, United States) where he majored in marketing and minored in cultural anthropology. Before joining NTU, Julien was Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the Australian School of Business (Sydney, Australia). In his research, he tries to integrate anthropological theories and methodologies to the study of marketing in the global marketplace.

RSVP required by 22 March 2013. For more information, please see

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Anthrodesign Singapore Event 1-Pics

For the first anthrodesign meetup in Singapore, 16 of us met for a drink at Mr Punch, on the rooftop of the mint toys museum. A great mix of people from academia, industry and government attended. We had people from the Ministry of Manpower, the Prime Minister’s Office, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, MIT, NTU, Flamingo, Consumer Faces, Swinburne University, A*/Infocomm.

Plans were made to meet every two months or so, with the next event to be held at A* in March and another event in May at Flamingo.

For those of you who missed the event, here are some of the pictures we took:

Group picture 2


Group 3group picgroupe 4


Shamil Zainuddin (Sociology, National University of Singapore) and Julien Cayla (ACI / Nanyang Business School) are organizing a get-together for ethnographers, designers and like-minded people, on 24 January in Singapore on the rooftop bar of the mint museum.

An objective of this first meet-up is to discuss ways to promote ethnography and human-centered innovation work in Singapore through different initatives.

Time: 6pm on 24th January 2013

Location: Mr Punch Rooftop Bar-26 Seah Street

Please rsvp at :


ACI / Nanyang Business School

Julien Cayla / Nanyang Business School

Julien Cayla is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Asian Consumer Insight, an Asssistant Professor of Marketing at Nanyang Business School (Singapore) and a Visiting Professor at Kedge Business School (Marseille). As an organizational ethnographer, he  has conducted work in the world of Indian ad agencies, brand consulting firms and market research firms. Until 2013, he was  a Senior Lecturer at the Australian School of Business in Sydney. Some of his work can be accessed here:


Shamil Zainuddin / NUS

Shamil Zainuddin is an ethnographer and a graduate student in sociology at National University of Singapore. He has worked at Ogilvy Public Relations, Ogilvy Redcard and the Asia Research Institute. He is a recipient of several national awards. He can be reached at:

Meetup in Singapore

List member Julien Cayla writes that he is moving to a new position in Singapore, at the Institute for Asian Consumer Insight, to teach ethnography and do research on consumer culture in South Asia.

He wants organize an informal get-together for people interested in cultural anthropology / ethnography / design / consumer culture in January in Singapore. The plan is to meet for drinks in the Central Business District.  Email him if you are in the area and would like to connect with a group of like-minded anthrodesigners – julien cayla at gmail dot com.

Meetup in NYC

If you happen to be in NYC, please join us for the 2nd AnthroTech MeetUp on Thursday, 13th December, 7pm at the Pless Hall 1st floor lounge.

Max Foxman, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and a recent grad from NYU’s MCC program, will discuss his recent ethnographic and theoretical work on why people use gamified online products like Foursquare.  He’ll also address his current work on people’s interaction with “Internet culture.”

April Strickland is a documentary filmmaker and a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at New York University.  She works with indigenous Maori film and television producers in New Zealand to investigate contemporary connections between media, sovereignty, and social movements.

We’ll also have audience Q&A time followed by freeform networking made more fun by the free wine that we’ll have for you!  Please RSVP to organizer Uma Anand at