Learning How to Look

As far as I'm concerned, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has one of the best lines in the 1989 movie "The Abyss."
"We all see what we want to see... Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that."
I love the idea that we can choose to look with better eyes.

Over the past few months, I've been sensing a growing backlash in the anthropology community against the encroachment of designers and design ethnography. It's similar to the tension between trained and untrained designers in the wake of desktop publishing in the mid-nineties. Although there are exceptions, most designers aren't trained anthropologists. I'm certainly not, and even though I've studied research methods at Carnegie Mellon, I still want to look with better eyes.

A few weeks ago, one of the designers I work with asked a slightly disarming question about field observation. "How do you know if you're getting any better at it?" The answer gets at the heart of the whole designer/anthropologist debate, so I've started looking to the history of anthropology to provide a stronger foundation.

For a while now, MIT has been publishing their course materials online, and I came across a syllabus for a semester-long seminar in ethnography and fieldwork. Most of the initial readings are available down at the Stanford library, so I'm starting at the beginning and diving in. It's Design Seminar, all over again.

Nathan Borror
Ironic that you bring this up. I just purchased "Dictionary of Symbols" by Carl G. Liungman. Fascinating, the evolution and cross usage of symbols over the centuries. I've never really dove into anthropology, you've definitely sparked an interest.
Mark Schraad
When I was studying in Kansas, though they have a very strong anthropology and ethnography department, they were reticent to help much when it came to application of these disciplines for business (design). It seems a practice very much stuck in a 'only for the sake of knowledge' mentality.

It was as if this knowledge was used for profit or business (even changing the world for the better though commerce), it made them feel dirty.The exception at Kansas seemed to be the visual linguistics folks.

I think much of academia could benefit from more applied practice... I also think that more business should interact with some of the amazing things happening in academia. d.school and IIT are headed in the right direction... btu there is a long way to go.

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