Re: Anthropologists in Silicon Valley

Mark Day/CAM/Lotus (Mark_Day/CAM/
Thu, 10 Jun 1999 17:23:12 GMT

> I'm a big fan of having anthropologists involved in product design. All
> often computer scientists try to create their systems based on a
> view of how it will be used, without getting empirical backup.
> Anthropologists can tell you how a product is actually used, completing a
> vital feedback loop into the design process.

> Unfortunately anthropologists are still mostly considered a novelty -- in
> view their involvement is crucial.

If the issue is having someone with a background other than programming and
computer science involved in product design, I agree wholeheartedly.

Even if the issue is involving social scientists, broadly construed, I
agree. Psychologists are the people we use the most.

However, I think a focus on anthropologists per se is deeply bogus. I
speak from the perspective of having gone down the road of trying to hire
anthropologists. We interviewed a number of people with "good"
anthropology credentials but no new perspective on the issues we care
about. They were no better or worse at saying helpful things about
peoples' use of systems than any other person.

Basically we concluded that some people with the right insights are
anthropologists (and they get written up in the media) -- but others are
journalists, novelists, musicians, etc. There doesn't appear to be
anything about the discipline of anthropology or the experience of getting
a PhD in anthropology that equips them to make a special contribution to
this kind of product design process.