Design Anthropology as Social Design Process


  • Siobhan Gregory



Social design, urban renewal, gentrification, ethnography, design anthropology


As professionally trained designers position their practices as central to social change, they bring with them efficiency in process, technical expertise, sophisticated aesthetic skills, and highly scripted narratives. In economically challenged cities like Detroit, creative professionals are hired to help transform neighborhoods that are described as abandoned, disorderly, and “blighted”. Residents of these neighborhoods are increasingly asked to engage in stakeholder meetings and design charrettes that promise greater inclusion and “a voice” in the process. These activities and interventions are sometimes framed as Design Thinking, human-centered design, or participatory design. However, as designer-adapted, re-contextualized anthropological methods, these approaches may ultimately diminish the value and understanding of applied anthropological enquiry. The author argues that design anthropology can offer a deeper, more grounded, and more equitable approach to design and design research processes in contexts of “urban renewal.”  


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