Culture - Source: Xian Chen

Source: Xian Chen


Materials - Source: Alesya Krit

Source: Alesya Krit

Information for Employers

Why do I need Design Ethnography Skills in my Team?
When is Anthropology Valuable?

Our graduates are very individual, with specific interests and skills. They do not conform to a type, but they have a calling. They have been through a programme where they have been encouraged to develop their own approaches to society and culture, and a more developed personal sense of vocation where they have a clear idea of their expertise, what their audience is, what their own work process is, how they present it, and what value it has. Anthropology and archaeology graduates as a rule build their own sense of what drives them, what their calling is, and what it is not. We relish this fact, and encourage it in every graduate.

We work to ensure our graduates have analytical and ethnographic skills first of all, and are able to make these skills relevant to specific areas of work. They also have a materials literacy and design literacy, giving them the ability to collaboratively engage with different materials and design approaches. The key people involved in the delivery of the MA have a range of experience in working for and with companies, state organisations, designers, NGOs, and scientific researchers.  Our steering group is intended to keep our graduates directly in touch with the immediate up-to-date pressures and concerns of people working in relevant areas.

Among the areas and audiences our students engage with are:

Materials Consultancy, Service Design, Product Development, Concept Development, Architecture, Fashion, Branding, Media, Social Policy, Heritage Management, Curatorial Work, Materials Libraries, Conservation

Every graduate of the MA in Culture, Materials & Design undertakes their own extensive piece of research work. As a part of this, uniquely for our programme, they must envisage what audience would be interested in the research, to ensure that their work is not only of the analytically high standard deserving of a graduate of one of the world’s leading universities, but targets this analysis to issues relevant to companies, policymakers, NGOs, or heritage organisations. In our teaching, we draw for examples on work from key industry conferences, especially those concerning the overlap of the social sciences and design, and technological innovation.

While we focus on anthropological (and archaeological) skills in our teaching, most of our students maintain a range of design-related or management skills. These have included design, engineering, film and media, branding and marketing, set design and display design, fashion, heritage management, and architecture to name a few. What we do in our dedicated practical sessions is give them the opportunity to make these more relevant and useful, through the kinds of people-skills which ground them in work with actual people, objects and materials in actual contexts.

The practical sessions involve presentational and group work, which mean our students are able to work with ethnographic materials in ways familiar in many organisations, and also give them a critical point of view on these methods in terms of what tasks they are best applied to, and what they are not so good for. We run these sessions in parallel with traditional anthropological and ethnographic methods which involve individual and textual ways of working. This means students develop the deeply personal and individual sets of skills characteristic of a social and cultural analyst, but has the skills to collaborate, to communicate, and to engage.

If you need more information about the MA, or about how or whether the skills of a graduate of the MA may be of value to your organisation, please contact us.

Why do I need Design Ethnography Skills in my Team?

Our graduates are 1. as a rule, bright; 2. broadly qualitative researchers; 3. specialists in ethnography; 4. specialists in applying these skills to design, materials, technology and innovation; 5. analysts who think about culture and society using anthropology.

People skills are the necessary complement to technical skills in an increasingly computerised and mediated world.  Technological innovation and proliferation bring with them the pressures of more social interconnection, not less, and the demands of design, materials innovation and technological innovation affect many different sectors of society and commerce. Innovation itself is increasingly human-centred.  That is, the contemporary frontiers of innovation are in engagements with users and consumers, more than in laboratories and offices. It happens now in pull-factors more than technological push-factors.  The smart economy is also moving from the simple provision of information and services, to a business model comprising supporting people who themselves do the creative work. The economy requires graduates increasingly who can not only deal with creativity, and work with creatives and innovators, but deal with creators as a public and a market.

This new need for people skills then has two dimensions:  the ability to build connections with people in the places where new designs are encountered, and the capacity to build and maintain relationships with the audiences for ethnographic information. 

At UCL, we have a range of Masters courses and options which address diverse elements and audiences in this situation. The Culture, Materials and Design students take a direct interest in design and materials, and develop options in a range of other areas. For example, those with an interest in software design take options from our digital anthropology courses, those with a fashion interest take textile courses, and those with a curatorial interest explore museum management in the archaeology department.

When is Anthropology Valuable?

It is often the alternative or critical voice which is the most useful, but researchers need to know when to provide data and when to provide opinion. Social research involves a balance of the skills of answering questions, and asking socio-cultural questions for other professionals to answer. 

People-centred innovation involves new kinds of business models.  Rather than having to turn lab technologies into products and services, some companies are including users within innovation from the outset of research.  Different companies and different projects have different needs as to the ways in which skills are mixed and engaged.  

The course develops a range of qualitative skills and methodologies, so students are equipped to use different methods according to purpose.  For project work, we focus particularly on building ethnographic skills.  Ethnography involves a longer-term engagement with and experience of informants’ social worlds, in which the researcher can place focussed research in context through observing the intersection and interaction of diverse elements. 

You can make the best use of social researchers and ethnographers if you learn a little about ethnography, sociology and anthropology yourself, or if you employ someone who has been trained in ethnographic methodologies.