Article Comments: “A Design Anthropology of Place in Service Design: A Methodological Reflection”

Prendville, A. 2015. “A Design Anthropology of Place in Service Design: A Methodological Reflection”, The Design Journal, 18(2): 193-208

Prendville’s article explores two MDes Service Design projects which deal explicitly with the methodological convergences of both design and anthropology in the context of place-making of elderly community members. Taking place in Byker, a poor suburb of Newcastle, UK, the projects analyzed in Prendville’s article illustrate how existing practices in service design sometimes fail to account for the complexities of people’s lived experiences, leading to a less thorough understanding of the needs of a social group (2015: 196-198). Alternatively, Predville remarks upon the contributions of an anthropologically-inclined perspective, built upon the theoretical knowledge of the discipline (namely Ingold’s new materialism and Schutz’ phenomenology), which facilitate a deeper understanding of lived experiences and inevitably lead to better-designed services (2015: 199).

From a methodological perspective, Prendville highlights the strategies that designers use to map lived experiences along the theoretical lines associated with Ingold’s new materialist perspective. These mapping projects, informed through ethnography and participant observation, exposed a number of services not necessarily conceived of by prior perspectives as integral to the daily lives of the elderly Bryker community (2015: 200). The mapping exercises also worked to visualize the non-linear interconnections and flows of people, and the productivity of ostensibly non-efficient business processes (e.g. the walk-in scheme of the hair-dressing salon) (2015: 201).

Prendville’s article is not that of an anthropologist, but that of a designer. For this reason, there is a pragmatic interpretation and implementation of anthropological theory for an already presumed benefit to the community in mind which takes upon specificity through the ethnographic process (i.e. the continuation of existing modes of living through the promotion of businesses to community members becomes more clearly a project to attempt to potentially alleviate the total collapse of the community system when funding for the main community center runs out and main hubs of socialization begin to fail or, alternatively, an attempt to spread business around the community area to supplement the over-subscribed programs at one community center, etc.). Essentially, the difference between this designerly perspective is one with a goal and intervention in mind, which in itself requires that “reflexivity” which often makes its appearance in the article without substantive definition.

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