GEOG 583
Geospatial System Analysis and Design

Technology Trends - Anthropology of Design

Technology Trends - Anthropology of Design

A child shown on facetime in front of the hong kong skyline at night
Figure 2.02: Video chat from 8000 miles away - the new normal for the next generation.
Credit: A. Robinson © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

People ≠ Ants 

Ants have very stereotypical behaviors, partly because they have tiny brains, but mostly because they are devoid of culture. Humans are individuals and have complex brains programmed by culture, and the ability to express individuality. Design is often done without careful reference to human culture. It is often imposed on the consumers of the information. This approach fails in the majority of social situations because no one likes being told what they need. They like even less being forced to perform according to someone else's ideals. Instead, we like to express ourselves as individuals. But, as individuals, we are not free of our cultural milieu. The way that we see information is dependent on many factors relating to our social embeddedness and our personal preferences. In the contemporary age, information is delivered by technology, which is itself imbued with culture. As a result, design needs to start first with people, not technology.

This interesting vignette narrated by Rich Sheridan at Menlo Innovations will start you thinking.

Video: Menlo Innovations' High-Tech Anthropology (2:13)

Click here for a transcript of Menlo Innovations' High-Tech Anthropology.

We need anthropology. We need to study people. And we need to study them in their native environment. Let me share with you just one brief example of how powerful this can be.

We worked on a project for a county government for their Vital Records Office - you know, the place you get birth certificates, death certificates, and that sort of thing. Our team came up with the screen designs and I wanted to see them before they made the final presentation. On the home screen, were all these idyllic pictures like beach scenes and palm trees and white sand beaches and waves lapping out in the water.

And I laughed. I said, “These aren’t the final screen designs, are they? This is the Vital Records Office for the county government. What are you guys doin’?”

And they’re like, “Oh, no. This is really important.” I said, “Why? Did they ask for that?” And they said, “Oh, no. They didn't ask.”

I said, “Well, how did you know you should put these in?”

They said, “Oh, we went to visit them. We studied them in their native environment. And, you know, after they got done with their interactions at the counter they’d go back to their cubes and there were all these postcards there of all these idyllic beach scenes, and we asked them. We said, ‘Are you guys in a travel club?’

And they said, ‘No we've never been to these places.’

‘Oh, do friends send you these?’

‘No, we just bought ‘em.’

And we looked at them and there was nothing on the back. They were just pinned up all over the place.

We said, ‘Why the postcards?’

They said, ‘Oh, you just don’t understand. We’re county employees, you know, and when customers come in to talk to us they’re like, ‘I pay your paycheck.’’

They said, ‘Our blood pressure goes up and we go back to the cube and we wanna settle down a little bit before the next client comes in.’”

And so our team saw that and we put these pictures in the home screen so while they were standing at the counter they could have that sorta medicinal effect while they were talking to the client. When we showed those to the end-users, literally tears started rolling down their face.

They said, “No one's ever listened to us like that before.”

And the point was, we didn't listen at all. We observed.

Credit: MenloPrez. "Menlo Innovations' High-Tech Anthropology®" YouTube. June 28, 2010.

How might an Anthropological view of design impact future GISystems? We know we need to identify end users accurately and design a system tailored to their needs. In the contemporary world, the end-user may not be obvious or even knowable in advance. In addition, spatial information consumers may not be part of the culture that is originating that information, and might not share any of the values that the designer holds. For example, the English language -- the de facto, lingua franca of the web and of science -- is full of terms that are influenced by native English speaking people's cultural heritage. Of course, different societies see things differently, and this is reflected by their language. To adopt technology embedded in a western scientific paradigm and written in English requires that those users opt into many things that might not be evident at first glance.

This video lecture by Jan Chipchase helps expand on the potential role of traditional anthropology in design.

Video: Jan Chipchase - Design anthropology (22:31)

Click for a transcript of Jan Chipchase: Design anthropology.


JAN CHIPCHASE: Hi. First off, it's wonderful to be here and thanks for everyone for being so welcoming here at Poptech. So I work for Frog, which is a design and innovation consultancy, and I'm the head of research. Frog has about, just to give you a sense of scale, we have about 1,600 folks spread across 15 studios and development centers worldwide. And we serve many leading companies and organizations and help them bring their ideas to life. We help them make things.

I spent much of the last 15 years conducting research around the world and particularly looking at how the role that technology plays in society. The studies can be anything from something as notionally trivial as what people carry in their bags, and why, in Japan. The role of faith in transactions in India. We were fortunate enough to be working in Egypt just post-revolution and so we explored the role of social media in the Middle East.

And something that might be very dear to the Poptech community is working in Afghanistan trying to understand what it would take to bring rudimentary banking services to consumers who are on $1 or $2 a day. Actually, while we were in Egypt, we managed to pop down to Libya just for a little bit to try to figure out how someone had managed to hack the Libyana cellular network. This is Gaddafi in his better days.

So one of the core principles of how we work is that we want to get into the context that people do the everyday things that they do when we run the research, and typically we're on the ground for anything from a few days up to one month on the ground. And so we like to get into the context that people do the things that they do. We've become adept at figuring out where in the community we're able to engage people on their own terms, wherever we are in the world. This is actually in a barber shop in Jalalabad where we are conducting interviews.

But nearly always, our research starts in people's homes. And you can figure out so much about what drives people and what their motivations are by being invited into their home and being given access to actually very intimate moments in their life and very intimate spaces as well. And we do this in much of the, kind of, industrialized world and we do this in, I guess, the majority world, or in communities which are very tight knit and people on very low levels of income.

For example, here in Dharavi in Mumbai. You know, this is a home for a family of four and it's six by four meters. And so, you know, how as a team, what's the appropriate way to be able to go into these spaces in a very short space of time and collect meaningful data. And as you might imagine, we run this worldwide and we had a meeting in Austin recently and we calculated we probably run 70 to 100 studies a year in Frog.

And as you might imagine, there are numerous logistical challenges to doing this kind of research. Sometimes we have to get a team on the ground in a culture that we really don't know, operating in a language that nobody on our team yet understands, and sometimes with as little as one week's notice. Ideally, you want a lot more than that, but it can be as little as one week's notice.

And we've built a process and we developed, and refined, and honed, a process for building, putting together a team. We have a few principals, similar to [? Milenko, ?] and we hire local. We like to spend local because we're pumping money into the local communities and we typically live in people's homes or in a guest house with the whole team including the locals. A local assistant kind of thinks sometimes it's a bit of a holiday to be invited into that space. But actually, we get them from 4:00 am until 2:00 am so we can actually work them pretty hard.

Some of the logistical challenges are many. But some of the most interesting challenges, I think, are the moral and ethical issues that we have in doing this research given that we have largely commercial clients. And sometimes it drives some of our team to desperation. No. This is actually, we typically have a decompression at the end of a study. This is the train between Ji'an in China to Lhasa, two days on a train with a team to be debriefed over the data. That's actually my colleague sitting on the top bunk.

So I'm going to give you a little taste of things that we're looking for and kind of the way that we see the world. And a lot of our research is we spend weeks on the ground, and we can interact with many, many people, but sometimes there's a few things that can highlight our approach and what we can learn. One of the things I love about resource-constrained environments is what they can teach us, particularly as designers and makers.

So can anyone tell me what this is? Gasoline. Anyone else? Lemonade. Palm oil. OK. It's taken on the streets of Ho Chi Minh city and the first gentleman was correct. It's gasoline. It's a gasoline tank It's a gas station. Now when most of us think of a gas station, we think of the big canopy, we think of the forecourt, we think of the uniforms, the cash register, the bathrooms, the coffee, the lousy coffee, and the snacks. We think of all of that and that's the holistic gas station experience.

And this is a wonderful example. You can actually get those gas stations in Vietnam, but this is a wonderful example of a street gas station. Is there anything you can take away from this? And it's still a gas station. The brick? Why is the brick there?

AUDIENCE: To put it on display.


AUDIENCE: To put the gas on display.

JAN CHIPCHASE: To put the gas on display? Could have that purpose. Anyone else?

AUDIENCE: Siphoning.

JAN CHIPCHASE: Siphoning. OK. Exactly. So if you have gasoline, in a container, on a brick, it raises it above the container that you're trying to siphon it into. Pretty simple. Pretty simple. And so, if you think about a gas station, the next time you see one of those large gas stations, just think of a bottle on a brick, and a siphon, and that's what it is. And as designers, we like to kind of pare down the understanding, or drill down to the essence of what a product or a service is, and what it can be, before we then build it up in something else.

So this is notionally a relatively trivial example and certainly trivial, I think, after the previous two speakers. And this is taken in Beijing. Can anyone tell me what this is? Or why the wood is there? OK. I'll give you a clue. It's closure for dogs. OK. So China is already the world's largest car market. It's also the world's largest market of first-time car buyers. And if you're a car buyer, part of the holistic experience of owning a car is that it retains a sense of cleanliness. Certainly, you don't want dogs peeing on it.

And like I say, this is a trivial example, but you know when you're operating the space that we operate in, I look at this and I see two opportunities. I see one opportunity which is to develop tires that naturally propel dogs, that encourage dogs to go elsewhere. And the second thing I think of is, well, let's say you live in a community in San Francisco and you don't really like the SUVs cluttering up the streets and you have a problem with that, well, what if you developed something that would encourage dogs to pee on wheels.


And if you want to play both sides, you could develop both. OK. So one of the things I find fascinating about looking in the world and looking at how people behave is the social rules that govern how we behave. The social rules that govern that you titter at a certain moment, or you clap at another moment, or that whether you jump a queue or not. And all of these little rules that nobody says what they are, but everyone knows when you've crossed them.

And typically, there's behaviors that people exhibit when you do cross it. Tutting if you're British, tutting is a very common one. Bleaching is another, which is in cafes when someone opens their laptop and the owner is not happy with it, they'll clean up around and if they're really unhappy, they'll put bleach on the cloth and clean up around to encourage the people to move on.

And another thing I'm fascinated is, we operate world wide and I'm fascinated how people learn about what's appropriate use of a technology in their particular culture, given that we live in a globalized world. And this photo for me is, why is it that these two apartments lay out their futons in Japan and nobody else in the apartment block does? And it's because they, as neighbors, that's what they see. They're learning from each other and they're not seeing what's above them and what's below them.

And I'll give you an example of a niche technology, use of technology, that you're not really likely to see elsewhere. So this is a car. This photo was taken in Seoul. I'm going to zoom in to the windscreen and, in Seoul, it's typical that when you have a car, you post your phone number on the windshield. Because many of the roads in Seoul are very narrow and when you park, if you want to be considerate to your neighbors, of course, you want to be able to give them some point of contact so that you can move your vehicle. To do otherwise would be anti-social.

How many people here would post their phone number on their--

[LAUGHING] OK. And this is interesting because, increasingly, as the products and services that we're developing are inherently becoming connected, and increasingly as they have more social elements to them, the decision whether to adopt a technology, whether to opt into or out of using a technology, or a product, or a service, becomes one of whether you want to opt into or out of society. It's a fundamental thing. I'm going to repeat that. The decision of whether to opt into or out of a product or service is increasingly becoming one of whether to opt into or out of society.

And I'm just thinking about that from the point of view of designers of services. So often when we think of taking a slightly different tack, often when we think of big brother, we think of this. This is actually taken close to the stadium in Shanghai. But actually, a lot are the things that allow us to be surveilled come from our own use of technology, from mobile phones, from making contactless payments, and from things like this.

So this is a vending machine in Tokyo. And this vending machine is a little different from other vending machines that you may know. So depending on whether you're male or female as you're passing, it will monitor you and then once it figured out you're female, it will be displaying drinks on that display that it thinks that you, as a consumer, will like. This exists today. This has been around for a few months. And you know, this is a very Japanese application of technology, but increasingly you're going to be seeing this.

And this displays that-- instead of just displaying, you can interact with them, and you can pull information out from them and that seems like a two-way street. But increasingly what we're seeing is that these displays are collecting information on the environment around them, and they can do it 24/7. Imagine that every display you see out there is able to capture what it sees and who has access to that.

And, as designers, we're confronted with moving from designing for consumers increasingly for designing for constituents, people who may or may not know that they are actually using a product or service. And as a domain, as a profession, we need to change our skill set and we need to change how we think about how we design.

I came across this quote recently which I love. It's from an author who wrote an essay called Bill J. And so, "our moral character dwindles as our instruments get smaller." And this is actually quite timely. We're at a stage where technically, nearly all of that technology in a mobile phone that you're carrying with you today, can be reduced down to something that could be in your ear and nobody can see it. Already you have Bluetooth headsets, but imagine having everything that's cellular into something that size that other people can't see.

And increasingly, technology is being embedded in the displays, and the ticket gates, and the fabric of the infrastructure around us. And one of the issues with that is that we like to think of Big Brother and the large corporations as being clumsy or being malicious with that data. But actually, from my experience, we, us, all of you, are the ones that fumble with the kind of social etiquette of technology. Cameras stuck in your face. Inappropriate uses of things.

And this is how we, as a society, figure out what's right and what's wrong. Or where the line between social and anti-social is. So instead of being able to look at this photo here and seeing the person with the camera, what if every person in this picture has a camera? And maybe they do. Maybe you just can't see it.

This quote actually is from The Amateur Photographer, in 1910, and it's from a time when cameras came from this big on a tripod to something that could be carried around. All of a sudden, people could move around communities and capture people unawares. So I'm going to point out a couple of disruptions. Things that I think are going to shake the very fabric of society and, particularly, the social spaces and the communities around us.

And the first is, so if you look at this gentleman, this is a male host in an area of Tokyo. Male hosting is relatively popular in Japan, where women go to a place to speak and dine with a gentleman. It's not necessarily sexually related. And you can see the 2d bar code on there, but that's already outdated technology as far as I'm concerned. This gentleman's face is the interface. The ability to take a camera, in near to real time, in the time it takes for someone to walk across a room, to be able to pull up data on that person and to know who they are, to know what they posted online, to know what other people have posted about them online. So that is very, very, very close.

And this notion of identity, who owns the identity? Who owns that data? Who owns who sees what, when they pull up your face, is going to be one of the fundamental questions in the next few years. I'm going to give you an extreme example. This gentleman is a loan shark and my assistant had just borrowed money from him. It's in Malaysia. We were doing a study on money. I blurred out his face to protect his identity. One of the things that a loan shark does, apart from figuring out where you live, is actually take your photo. Your photo, your image, is collateral.

It's an extreme example, but actually if you go to many factories in China which have a lot of migrant workers, when a migrant worker starts working in a factory, they hand over their ID card, the equivalent of a driver's license. And if they want to leave, they need to ask for that back, and they can't just leave, often. So if they want to leave they need to, for example, get someone to replace them before they go.

My last example is this. So does anyone know what this is?

AUDIENCE: 23andMe.

23andMe. It's a DNA testing kit. Thank you. Excuse me. I'm a little dry. And I think it's about 99 bucks. You spit in a funnel and send it off, and a couple of weeks later, 23andMe will send you access to your online profile where they will tell you your genetic disposition to certain diseases. And this is, for me, an example of the mainstreaming of DNA testing and having us as individuals, having organizations as well, having a greater understanding of what our DNA is.

And one of the interesting byproducts of the mainstreaming of DNA testing is something called parental discrepancy. And parental discrepancy is when you figure out, because multiple members of the same family have been tested, that your biological father is not your father. And in this room today-- oops, there was a slide that's missing, excuse me-- in this room today, there's probably about 500 people in the room today, I hate to say it, but probably four of you statistically, probably four of you, your biological father is not your father. OK? And it's a little disconcerting.


I mean, what's interesting about this for me, as a technology, is that it fundamentally can challenge our notion of family. On the one hand, it can reinforce it. It reinforces for people for whom a biologically-linked family is important. It reinforces that. But, in some communities, a parental discrepancy can be as high as 20%, in very low income, low education, high unemployment communities. And in those communities, potentially, it helps redefine, it helps socialize the redefinition of the family unit.

I'm going to end in two with two things. So the first thing is we're all familiar with caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. And this is good. The buyer should be aware. There's a lot of crap out there and we have to ask a lot of questions. But, as a designer, I'm looking for the next. And I like this. This is actually used by Lloyd's of London, Uberrima Fides. And it means to enter into a contract with utmost faith. And so I'd like to leave you with that. Uberrima Fides. Thank you.


Credit: poptech. "Jan Chipchase: Design anthropology." YouTube. November 11, 2017.

Finally, I want you to check out a project called MUSE by a company called InteraXon, which intends to implement brain-control for your computer and other digital devices. This is perhaps at the far end of the spectrum away from an Anthropological approach to design, so I want you to think about how you might bridge the gap between these extremes. It's a marketing video, so take it with a grain of salt. While I am sure that solving the range of problems that undoubtedly emerge when one begins trying to manipulate technology with thoughts alone will be an enormous task, I think it's likely that we'll begin seeing this stuff in consumer and professional systems sooner, rather than later. The MUSE project seems to have evolved now into a consumer product aimed at helping people meditate, so not exactly the level of control that they might have hoped for back in 2012 when they first demonstrated their tech. Given human proclivities for creating and maintaining mental maps, I am fascinated to see how technology like this might relate to how we interact with spatial data. It also poses a challenge for implementing Anthropological approaches to design - how do you observe what is happening in someone's mind, exactly?

Please watch the following video from InteraXon, Introducing Muse: Changing the Way The World Thinks (4:40).

Click here for a transcript of Introducing Muse: Changing The Way The World Thinks.

It's pretty neat to be able to have this window into your mind.

And that may seem like science fiction now, but we're making that a reality.

I think it's really cool. This is probably the coolest thing I've ever encountered.

I'm here today to introduce you to Muse, the sleek, new, four sensor headband from InteraXon that gives you a new way to interact with technology. Since 2007, InteraXon has been building a reputation as a leader in brain computer interface technology.

Every once in a while, there's an innovator who completely remakes reality.

Muse is the realization of those years of effort, insight, and innovation. This is our beautiful, new, four sensor headset that gives you a new way to interact with technology directly with your mind. There's two sensors on the forehead, two behind the ears, and just slips on like a pair of glasses.

People are starting to wear sensors on their body all the time. It's the way that the Nike Fuel watch is happening and the Fitbit. We want a headset that is stylish, it's comfortable-- something that looks good and something that makes you feel good when you wear it.

This is the first thing that I've ever had just slip on my head that I can actually see using in everyday life.

Same way taking your pulse will tell you know how your body is doing during physical exercise, this will tell you how your brain is doing during mental exercises.

I think there are a lot of benefits to having an EEG in your pocket. From the primary application of having a way of parsing and looking at your mind in real time, or retrospectively, and being able to better understand the effects of different activity. And bringing that all together can hopefully benefit our memory, our mind, our learning, and our happiness.

It's pretty neat to be able to have this window into your mind. A device which can actually show you the activity inside your brain and how it relates to what's happening to you in the present moment.

When your mind is concentrated and focused on a single thing, we can detect that. When your mind wanders, we can detect that, too. So what we'll do is give you feedback that'll help you notice that your mind is wandering so that you can develop the skill of bringing it back. Muse measures your state of mind, so you can choose exercises that help you best achieve your goal, whether that's improving your concentration and focus, de-stressing, or keeping your cool in tough situations.

The potential uses for BCI are almost endless. Today, you can use it to improve your mind.

Within 10 years, this technology could be used to play games and operate toys, keeps you alert on long drives with fatigue monitoring, control lights, temperature, and other stuff at home.

Create your own mood playlists and match wits with your perfect mate.

Our goal was to take the incredibly complicated signals that come out of your brain, to simplify them, and give you easy to use controls you could integrate into your tools so you can create applications to do whatever you think is exciting about brainwaves.

We build a Sphero, which is a robotic gaming system that's controlled from your smartphone or tablet. In the immediate future, I want to control a Sphero with my thoughts-- that would be awesome.

Oblong is the company that made the Minority Report interfaces in the film, and we've spent the last six years building that stuff in reality. As both a hacker and someone who is deeply interested in cognitive science, I want to start writing apps right away that try to correlate what I can perceive as my internal state, and I think there's stuff to be discovered there.

So I think InteraXon will really change the world in the sense that this technology of brain computer interface really marks an embodiment of humanistic intelligence. Now we're into an era where everybody wants this kind of glass and its associated brain computer interface.

We've been working in a lab for four years creating this technology and now we're ready to start production. That's why we're here on Indiegogo because we know we're not the only people who are going to be excited about Muse and its wealth of possibility.

Our backers will get more than just a headband. Muse comes with our brain training app, including games you can play with your mind. You also get to share your ideas with us to really be a part of the development of this technology.

We're going to give them early access to our SDK. They'll get support from us to try and use for their projects and their integrations. The real excitement of getting this out into the world in the hands of people who are creative and have the ability to build things is, I can't imagine what people are going to do with this.

Your technology will know what's on your mind and it'll respond. And that may seem like science fiction now, but we're making that a reality.

It's just mind blowing. It's the most exciting thing I've ever done.

Thank you so much for helping us bring this to life.

Credit: InteraXon. "Introducing Muse: Changing The Way The World Thinks." Vimeo. October 29, 2012.

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