This winter quarter Zelda Harrison will be teaching an online course called Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign. In order to get the word out about what this course and UX area are about, she has kindly written up the following, which I've tinkered with only a bit because I'm an irrepressible editor. Take it away, Zelda:
As a practising or aspiring professional in design & media you've probably heard comments like this before:
"It's no longer about designing artifacts, it's about designing experiences."
"It's just not enough to have a cool logo, packaging or website anymore."
"We're transitioning into a 'relationship' economy..."
Whatever you feel about the ongoing debate about where we're headed, one thing is clear: successful design is very much about the End User.
What this means to you as a communications professional is that it's time to upgrade your toolkit. After all, you have (or will have) invested a lot of time, effort and talent into ensuring computer proficiency, craftsmanship, and a critical eye. Like any good soldier, you’ve enlisted in a life-long battle to keep your creative juices flowing. But how exactly do you figure out this End User?
Not that the target audience, consumer and client didn't matter before. She - and for most of modern marketing, the target has been female - has always been part of the script. Communication, messaging, branding and packaging were all destined to make her feel empowered and comfortable in her choice of products and services. But there was always a vague sense of who exactly "She" was... In the days of Don Draper, skilled advertising execs and shrewd observers of human nature were paid top dollar for relying on their guts. Later, with the influx of technology, the use of bar codes and behavioral studies, quantitative data analyses and focus groups helped define creative briefs.
The more creative and savvy amongst us used this information to develop ideas about lifestyle, personas and archetypes. Here’s the rub: there is a growing sense that these tools are outliving their usefulness in a post-consumer economy. In light of the increasing complexity of communities, demographic shifts, the astronomical changes in media and their effect on human motivation, heavy reliance on instinct and numbers could be a dangerous thing. What marketers have long feared just might be coming true: that the “average user” or “typical consumer” might be extinct or just a myth.
Today's successful companies and service providers are astutely observing that it is no longer viable to develop a product or service at considerable cost and based on the organization's perception of the market. They understand that it is not enough to “sense” the consumer’s needs, or to “survey” the consumer (oh sorry, I mean End User, and you’ll see why in a moment). You need to get under their skin.
To re-hash the classic example of best practices in product development supported by insightful marketing, let’s think about Apple. Apple took a product that had existed for seven odd decades - the telephone - and created a revolutionary product. The iPhone was an overnight sensation not based on features of varying levels of speed, computing accuracy, mobility or even design – anyone remember the Razr and Chocolate? Apple understood the need to have a product that melded seamlessly with the End User's needs and lifestyle. Apple commercials and communication rarely talked about the phone after the initial (educational) pitches. It was always about you, how your life was made more simple, how you got the things you needed to get done. The staying-connected, being-entertained, finding-your-way-around-town, getting-something-to-eat, photo-album all rolled into one. In fact, the iPhone is so much a part of my life that when a friend pointed out that it didn’t even exist five years ago, I was astonished.
So as a designer on a team of marketing, branding and/or product professionals you add value as the one who translates the marketing/creative brief into reality. Designers are valued for their empathy, the expectation that they are naturally in tune with the needs and lifestyle of the End User. You are expected to walk in the End User's shoes, to get under their skin.
How? This is where the concept of the "AnthroDesigner" emerges. The AnthroDesigner seeks informed understanding of the End User through anthropological observation. The AnthroDesigner:
• conducts user research
• evaluates people's thinking and behavior in context of their cultural structures
• assesses their value system
The AnthroDesigner uses this information to create a prototype for products, systems or communication as well as a creative brief.
The course starts on January 6 and will be a study of diverse cultural systems, the role of environment on branding and communication, and the current evolution of audiences. The course is not just for designers and visual communicators. Architects, engineers, social workers, branding strategists and other marketing professionals are very welcome; in fact, a multi-disciplinary environment is key to AnthroDesign. Being familiar with creative software packages, experience with sketching and building prototypes will be helpful in fulfilling class assignments.
To register, go here.
For more information, call DCA at (310) 206-1422.