12 January 2017

Anthropologizing Software and Design

Charles Pearson is an anthropologist working in tech who has written a few great articles for Medium on his experiences.

In his recent piece, "Why Every Software Team Needs an Anthropologist" (2016, Medium), Pearson answers the question by weaving together the example of "everybody’s favorite start-up right now — Pied Piper" from HBO's Silicon Valley with his own experiences working in the tech industry. In the show, the start-up's amazing new technology flops at the end of Season 3, quite clearly because as Pearson notes, "the Pied Piper team didn’t step out of their echo chamber, and ultimately failed completely to understand the values and expectations of their potential userss. They didn’t design with them in mind. Consequently, the team’s enginneer’y values and assumptions, explicit in the platform, were completely irrelevant to everybody else." This is where having a researcher on the design team, like an anthropologist, can help. Because anthropologists know that "technology is cultural and all software is baked with certain values and premises."

Pearson argues that anthropologists' unique approach, with our "toolbox of cultural theory and ethnographic methods" can offer the tech industry the kinds of insights into design for users that is necessary for success.

If you want to read more about anthropologists working in the tech industry, check out Pearson's other pieces at Medium or our page on Applying an anthropological perspective outside of university.

Quick links & further reading: