Four things designers can learn from anthropologists

A group of students bustled around the first floor of the Comal building at Texas State University. Already, I could tell these weren’t normal college students. They were smartly dressed and fully alert at 9am on a Saturday morning. I grabbed my name tag and made a beeline for the coffee.

As I munched on a tasty sticky bun, I listened to the conversations around me. There was so much energy in that lobby!  A group of students chatted comfortably with representatives from Dell and AT&T about research. One girl waved her hands as she explained her work with Hays County Food Bank to an attentive group of students from universities across the state. I knew right away that the 2017 Texas Applied Anthropology Summit was going to be a Saturday well-spent.

So what can a Designer learn from a bunch of Anthropologists?

Focus Group Techniques

Focus groups get a bad rap these days, but mostly because they get misused. In this session with Jessica White-Sustaita, of Sentier, and Tanya Feinstein, of Dell, we learned when Focus Groups are appropriate. We also touched on common pitfalls, like asking leading questions, or showing bias. Finally, we did our own card sorting exercise.

Stakeholder Communication & Relationship Building

In this session with Winter Calaway, Senior User Experience Researcher at AT&T, we learned all kinds of tips about making it in the corporate world. Turns out, anthropologists attain mad people-skills that can help them navigate shifting priorities from stakeholders. They are also trained bridge-builders who can mediate cross-cultural differences for companies and organizations. I think what I learned most from this session is simply to keep an open mind and ask lots of good questions.

Facilitating and Managing Customer Panels

By far, my favorite session was the last one of the day. It was a workshop by Cary-Anne Olsen-Landis and Susan Jasinski, both of IBM Design Thinking, and they covered a LOT. Cary-Anne talked to us for a bit about IBM and then we jumped right into our activity. We had to come up with a new Apple watch feature, define our users, determine how to test this new feature, sketch out a rough schedule for conceptualization, prototyping, and user-testing. We did this in 3 10-minute sprints, and it was COOL. Cary-Anne and Susan were super supportive, and, of course, I had an awesome partner, Sarah Davis, of Baylor University. We were having so much fun that I forgot to take pictures, but I did get a snapshot of our idea board.

Collaborative Problem Solving

In conclusion, TAAS reinforced the importance of cross-discipline collaboration. In school, we tend to stay in our own little groups. However, as I learned on Saturday, the best ideas and the most efficient solutions happen when researchers, designers, engineers and stakeholders get together.

I truly hope I am not the only designer to attend TAAS next year!

Shout Out

Special thanks to the woman who split the sticky bun with me!

Also, thanks to Reyda Taylor of PKE Insights for chatting with me.

Thanks to Angela Ramer of HKS for being kind even though I temporarily stole your swag bag.

And, most important of all, thanks to my husband, for being a kick-ass husband and anthropologist and flying in from training in Chicago to attend this event. xoxoxo