Convergence between anthropological and design concerns has inspired intellectually stimulating and activist conceptions of research as well as market-oriented uses of participatory research. This round table discussion brings together professional and academic voices. It asks questions about how the relationship between design and anthropology is currently understood and put into practice. We are very pleased to welcome as panellists Alison Clarke, Alex Wilkie, Jen Clarke, Lucy Kimbell, Ben Singleton.
Cultural difference and the organisation of everyday life, preoccupations traditionally associated with anthropology, have recently become important topics in design practice and theory. Within anthropology a new sub-field, design anthropology, is also establishing itself. These developments can be seen as a process of adapting ethnographic methods and anthropological insights for the purposes of better management and smarter industrial innovation. Indeed, they appear to be associated with the needs of global corporations seeking to understand local markets and consumers, or with the aspirations of governments and developers to create more attractive place brands. Perhaps not surprisingly, among anthropologists such developments are still sometimes cautiously received.
Yet when it comes to design practice and theory the crossovers with anthropology suggest room for intellectually stimulating engagement. After all, the technological and material dimensions of everyday life and the fragility of economic arrangements based on growing consumption challenge societies everywhere. Meanwhile participatory and deliberative processes have become common ways of furthering shared projects in all areas of life. This might be leading to increasingly activist and critical conceptions of research, which anthropologists and designers, inside and outside academia, are in a particularly strong position to assess and develop together.