Allison Aber
Digital Product Designer
My interest in this field began in my undergraduate studies during a class called Ethnography in Design. In this class, we studied the documentary Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte and what makes spaces desirable. Whyte’s studies found that embracing the principles of accessibility and functionality enhances the social atmosphere of public spaces and is what ultimately makes them desirable. After studying the documentary, we were to document our own research, interviews, and observations to analyze a public space of our choosing and afterwards, redesign it using the same principles. Analyzing Whyte’s research and then applying it to a real world context myself helped me to start developing my own process. And once I had a grasp on them, the principles of ethnography began to pop up in all aspects of good design.

I feel purpose and ambition when applying the principles of ethnography to create functional designs. Ethnography strips design to its most dynamic form and advocates functionality in order to become utilitarian. The architect Tatiana Bilbao pushed my curiosities further, to the point that I began a Spanish minor in hopes that I would work for her one day. Her process of “matching architecture to people’s needs, by listening to them first” was the first I had heard of in the present day that utilized ethnography for those in need. But I knew I could take it further.

With the technology we have now, I want to use ethnography for the future. How can I, as a designer, help those without the means to help themselves? Good design is calling to be heard by those who indirectly interact with designers everyday. Ethnography can teach us how to design functioning products with the habits of the users at the core of the design.

Design, to me, is not just about creating products but designing pragmatic futures. Design encompasses understanding people and customs, history and research, anthropology and politics. It is an all encompassing subject which may be interpreted differently.
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