Laura Korculanin

On interdisciplinary & collaborative approaches.

Laura Korculanin is a Slovenian and Croatian design anthropologist specialising in water and toilets issues. She is conducting her PhD research at Design faculty IADE-UE where she is using anthropology research to inform creation of the design principles for sustainable urban water management in the city of Lisbon and which will serve to the implementation of innovative sustainable sanitation systems in other parts of the world. In 2013 her proactive and visionary personality brought her to found an interdisciplinary international project named Give a Shit – focusing on problem-solving orientated practices for sustainable sanitation and urban water management.

Laura is also a lecturer, workshop facilitator, artivist and a key local organiser of Why the World Needs Anthropologists: Designing the future.

What is Design Anthropology?

Emerging fields are always hard to define since their principals are based on something that is previously undefined and because of this hybrid inside of existing paradigm. Even so having experiences from both fields (as young researcher and anthropologist and on the other hand lecturer at design faculty and PhD candidate at Design course) I would shortly define design anthropology as a daring and creative problem solving orientated discipline, where we combine ethnography research, anthropological theories and holistic vision with design methods. I would add that in my opinion design anthropology goes beyond of just combining design and anthropology for final outcomes; it is an emerging field which requires for the critical approach of system thinking, where we understand that all the particles of identified problems are part of the bigger interrelated (eco)system and as such by the default to be able to create long-lasting solutions they require for interdisciplinary collaboration.

How did you first get into Design Anthropology?

In the time I had started to practice design anthropology I was not aware that that’s what I was doing (neither now I am sure that everyone from both disciplines would agree that “this or that is design anthropology” ). For me it was a great coincidence of various factors – friends who are great designers and architects and had inspired my curiosity into transdisciplinary studies and interdisciplinary collaboration within projects I had organized; personal interests in active ethnography and applied anthropology where communicating results from the research in the most understandable and appealing way became a norm of a personal satisfaction; special interests of using and practising arts and later on design as mediating tool for applied results from previous research.

One of the first authorship projects AKULTUR-Academic.Culture.Nature where I had integrated creative (design) methods in anthropological research, took part of a seminar project research within anthropology course back in 2008, where I was conducting research and doing ethnography about degraded areas in the city of Murska Sobota (Slovenia). Later on, research results had inspired interactive artistic and educative summer festival for children and adults awarded with a national award for sustainable development. Today called participatory design methods and design activism was kind of a leading thread of how we had communicated information’s and integrate participants to co-design the festival. This award was a great starting point for me to understand how important is to use creative methods for applied results within anthropology research.

What is respectful, ethical and conscious design and how can we nudge it?

Design is starting to apply many techniques and methods to understand better their customers and users (User Experience, User Interface, Cultural Probes, Customer Journey Map, etc.) as well as thankfully co-creating design processes are starting to become a norm for more and more companies. Anyhow, I believe anthropologists have an important role to play on how we can nudge people-centered approach within future design projects. I would say it’s becoming our duty to mediate research results/living and experienced realities on a clear and simple way to designers, architects, companies and municipalities to construct even better products/services/systems and our future sustain Able realities. To become even more respectful, ethical and conscious, design should integrate real needs and opinions of individuals inside the whole design process – from the beginning on where ideas burst, inside of production phase and later on to testing the experience and satisfaction of individuals.

What are the tools and methods combined which from anthropology and design that you mostly apply to your projects? Why?

Lately, I am especially working with active design methods, organising workshops based on creative design methods and simultaneously I am conducting ethnography, trying to understand behaviour and interaction of different stakeholders in the workshops. Workshops are mostly based on previous ethnography and in-depth interviews where informants become active participants and co-design ideas and solutions inside of workshops. As well I am working with participatory design methods and design activism, where I use artistic and interactive, provocative narratives to trigger the communication with society and different stakeholders about the issues observed and researched previously. For this kind of methods being used in practice, you can have a look at our project Give a Shit.

Imagine the world in 2050 – what are some of the challenges that design anthropologists will be facing and dealing with?

The need and demand for a human-centered future is growing inside of design and other disciplines as well as inside of emerging markets. I imagine that in the year 2050 there is going to be extreme need and demand for anthropologists which are being trained as applied and active anthropologists. Meaning we are facing the lacuna between the need and demand and existing curricular structure where we are not being trained or skilled with tools to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams immediately after or within our studies.

I guess the main challenge is to overcome the existing educational paradigm and implement transdisciplinary curriculars where from the beginning of our studies and professional careers we learn to work in interdisciplinary teams, we learn to apply understandable language to wider society and integrate our informants into the creation of a human-centered future.

Tell us about one of your favourite projects involving design + anthropology.

There are many but, at the moment, I would focus on a specific upcoming event Why the World Needs Anthropologists: Designing the Future, that I am part of and is here to communicate the importance of collaboration between design and anthropology to the worldwide audience. Actually, what is fascinating me within this specific project is the fact that anthropologists are interacting and collaborating with designers on a daily basis to be able to create the most interacting and appealing event so far. Collaborating with designers and design schools in the organization of the event means learning and talking with designers, which is demonstrating to me where we as anthropologists can still improve – in our professional practice, our communication, search for partners, creation of dialogue, etc.

The project is here to demonstrate the importance of anthropology outside of ivory tower of academia and to demonstrate the importance of collaborative and interdisciplinary approach between design and anthropology, where we learn from each other and envision human-centred and sustainable future together.

Thanks for your precious time, Laura. It was a pleasure to have you in Antropología 2.0 again. 

And to all of you, don´t forget that the registration to attend WWNA: Designing the future will start on June 1st. We hope to see you there!

Applied anthropology



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