Illustrated Debate: The Future of British High St.

Since quite a long time I want to develop some quick graphic representation skills. Something like visual note-taking. As I started attending to the University of Dundee Debate Union it looked like a pretty good idea to illustrate the debates as they go.

Last debate addressed the question “Is there a future to High Street?“. In this case it is not a particular address, “High Street is a metonym for the generic name of the primary business street of towns or cities, especially in the United Kingdom”. Wikipedia

So the debaters were discussing if the government support should be applied to help medium and small commercial businesses against the threats of e-commerce and gigantic retail chains.

And this is my quickie representation:

DundeeDebateSociety_HighSt_lowAt the left side those defending a governmental aid in order to save jobs and the British High Street culture itself. At the right side those defending that no aid should be given, and old-fashioned obsolete business models should fail because eventually new ones would take their place.

I felt a “vibe” of a famous Scottish invention, the invisible hand, but didn’t found a way to use it properly. However the idea that some companies must die and others survive in a “natural selection” pushed me to another strong British reference, Charles Darwin.

I with I could think about more icons than the flag… But nothing was coming to my mind ate the moment.

Lets see if I can keep doing these illustrations.

Why Design Ethnography?

If I had a penny for each weird look I receive for the answer to “what are you studding”…

This post aims to show how getting these two fields together just make a lot of sense.

Firstly, “design ethnography” is formed by two terms. The well known “Design” and the not-as-popular “Ethnography”, which is for the anthropologist a basic method as drawing is for designers. Hence, to talk about this subject it is necessary to talk about both design and anthropology.

1 – Design

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) defends that:


Design is a creative activity whose aim is to establish the multi-faceted qualities of objects, processes, services and their systems in whole life cycles. Therefore, design is the central factor of innovative humanisation of technologies and the crucial factor of cultural and economic exchange.[emphasis added] 


ICSID also list a series of tasks delegated to the design field: 

  1. Enhancing global sustainability and environmental protection (global ethics)

  2. Giving benefits and freedom to the entire human community, individual and collective

  3. Final users, producers and market protagonists (social ethics)

  4. Supporting cultural diversity despite the globalisation of the world (cultural ethics)

  5. Giving products, services and systems, those forms that are expressive of (semiology) and coherent with (aesthetics) their proper complexity.

[emphasis added]

As presented by Brenda Laurel’s book Design Researchif they [designers] desire to attract and delight customers or audiences for their work, they need to understand the people for whom they design.” It is also defended that until the 1990’s it was quite simple, populations – people from the same country or region, for example – were, in general, exposed to the same brands, products and media references, hence, sharing the same culture. Well… we know that it is not as true as it used to be…

2 – Anthropology  

According to AAA (American Anthropological Association), “anthropology is the study of humans, past and present” and the “central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems”[emphasis added]. Anthropology can also be divided in four areas: Linguistic, Archeology, Biological/Physical – and Sociocultural.

The AAA describes sociocultural anthropology as a practice which “seeks to understand the internal logic of societies through ethnography”[emphasis added], define in more details they state:


Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning.[…] Research in sociocultural anthropology is distinguished by its emphasis on participant observation, which involves placing oneself in the research context for extended periods of time to gain a first-hand sense of how local knowledge is put to work in grappling with practical problems of everyday life and with basic philosophical problems of knowledge, truth, power, and justice. Topics of concern to sociocultural anthropologists include such areas as health, work, ecology and environment, education, agriculture and development, and social change. [emphasis added].



3 – Design Ethnography 

Given these definitions, it is straightforward to come with a simple logical relation and conclusion: 

  1. if designers must understand peoples’ cultures in order to generate relevant and marketable solutions;
  2. if anthropology is the area of knowledge covering this subject;
  3. and both seek to apply their knowledge to create solutions to human problems;
  4. it is reasonable to suppose that designers could – or even should – apply social-anthropology methods – such as ethnography – to better understand the users of their future creations.

As AIGA’s Ethnography Primer summarizes “Ethnography is a tool for better design.”

And I think it is not just that. The extremely applied characteristic of design helps to turn research findings into down-to-earth outcomes as products, services and media.

For me it is this simple. What do you think?