In this Conversations episode of This Anthro Life, Adam Gamwell and guest host/TAL correspondent Matt Artz explore the world of Design Anthropology with the help of Dr. Elizabeth “Dori” Tunstall. Design Anthropology is a subject near and dear to our hosts, who have been excited to devote an entire episode to the subject. But, what is Design Anthropology? If you’re scratching your head, no worries. Adam, Matt, and Dr. Tunstall have it covered and describe the five iterations of design anthropology using examples of their use in the field. Over the course of the episode Adam, Matt, and Dr. Tunstall briefly cover issues of ethics within design anthropology as well as a touching upon how to find jobs in design.   

Adam, Matt, and Dr. Tunstall also make time to get into the topics of whether:

  • the IRS is really as bad as popular culture makes them out to be.
  • How can we avoid cultural misappropriation?
  • And finally, how do value systems get expressed in design?

The goal of design anthropology is to create conditions of compassion among human beings and conditions of harmony as it relates to the natural world and all of the things that are within it – Dr. Tunstall

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As always, TAL is brought to you in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association, the The SfAA Podcast Project, and SAPIENS.

Who is Dr. Elizabeth “Dori” Tunstall

Dr. Elizabeth “Dori” Tunstall is a design anthropologist and the Dean of Faculty of Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. She is the first black female dean of design. Dr. Tunstall received her PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University. In addition to her role at OCAD University, Tunstall wrote a bi-weekly column in The Conversation, worked as Managing Director for Design for Democracy, worked with E-Labs, which later became Sapients, and held numerous academic positions as a design anthropologist.

Fun Fact: Dr. Tunstall supplemented her studies in anthropology with art classes. Her love of drawing carried over into her anthropology courses as she drew drawings and comics for her responses to reading assignments. Even her PhD dissertation incorporated a variety of layouts based on the different places she studied in Ethiopia.

Don’t forget to register for the American Anthropological Association 116th Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.

Helpful Vocab:

Design Anthropology (for the Yin-minded): “How the processes and artifacts of design help to define what it means to be human.”

Design Anthropology (for the Yang-minded): “How design translates values into tangible experiences.”

Transculturation– Is a theory developed by Fernando Ortiz that focuses on the “merging and converging” of cultures. The following three processes are part of transculturation:

  • Acculturation – When you take parts of other cultures.
  • Deculturation- When culture is lost usually by conditions that are usually due to cohersion
  • Neoculturation– When hybrid cultures come out unrelated to any of the parent cultures

“You have to pay attention to what is gained, lost, created a new, and the power relations that exist within that” -Dr. Tunstall

The 5 Iterations of Design Anthropology:

  1. Yin (internal/self-reflective) and Yang (activism/change/external) of Design Anthropology – where the Yin represents anthropology, the Yang represents design, and design anthropology represents the “balance and harmony” between them.
  2. Q.A.M.E. – (Questions Assumptions, Methods and Evidence)
  3. Values/Design/Experience as a methodology of design anthropology
  4. 7 principles of Design Anthropology
  5. Respectful Design: Dori Tunstall: Respectful Design – The Canadian Context

Check Out the Following Links to Learn More About Companies That Focus on Design

Arc Worldwide


“Balance and harmony that’s needed between the reflection of anthropology and the making change that you get through design” – Dr. Tunstall

Are We Looking At the IRS in the Wrong Way?

Popular interpretations of the IRS tend to be negative with many people looking at the institution as place that just takes aways their money. Dr. Tunstall worked with the IRS to redefine the way citizens see them. She did this by presenting the IRS as a common good. Through the IRS, citizens are able to pool together a common pool of resources that everyone can use equally and everyone needs. The actual purpose of the IRS is positive and just needed to be better emphasized.

To Learn More About Dr. Tunstall’s Work with the IRS Check Out Her Blog Post, Values/Design/Experience at the IRS!

How Do Anthropologists and Designers Fit Together?

Dr. Tunstall looks at anthropologists as facilitators that are helping to identify what is similar and different between cultures. They are seeking to make “the strange familiar and the familiar strange”. On the other hand, designers look a variety of people’s needs to see what form they should be expressed in to bring people together in dialog. Together, they become a “bridge that uses tangible form to facilitate conversations that allow us to bridge those differences”.

How do the Profane and the Sacred Fit Into Appropriation and Misappropriation?

Dr. Tunstall suggests that the issues with appropriation and misappropriation “come when you borrow something that is within the categories of the sacred [rather than the profane]”.  She continued to explain that the sacred often entails communing with a higher power that governs the universe, so “when you borrow from the sacred you create disharmony and possibly destroy the balance of the universe”. When things fall into the category of the profane there is often little to know issue with borrowing from it. Regardless, it is always important to consult with the members from the culture whose practices you are borrowing from before adopting them.. As Dr. Tunstall suggests we need to be “respectfully engaging in the knowledge being shared to create conditions of harmony and compassion.”

Check Out the Links Below to Learn More About Decolonizing Anthropology

Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation

Decolonizing Anthropology: A Conversation with Faye V. Harrison, Part I

Decolonizing Anthropology

Are You Looking for Positions in Design Anthropology?

  • Join the Anthrodesign listserv to stay informed!
  • Also, try looking for job titles like:
    • Brand Strategist
    • User Experience Designer
    • Customer Service Specialist
    • Strategic Designer/Researcher
  • Anthropological experience, especially in relation to design, is often translatable to these fields.

Check Out These Links To Learn More About Things Mentioned in the Episode

History and Theory in Anthropology by Allan Bernard

George Marcus

Faye Harrison

Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples  

Dr. Deirdre Barron

Dr. Alex Manu