Even after completing the M.A. in Design program at CMU, I still felt like an anthropologist masquerading in the world of the designer, observing how they behave and participating in their activities. By mimicking their methods and incorporating their ideologies into my repertoire, I feel like I could pass for a designer and hold my own in conversation. However, at heart, I was still an anthropologist. For a year, I had embedded myself into this foreign culture, trying to understand how worked, what was the logic behind the various behaviors I witnessed and took part in. I was still just conducting more ethnographic research. I never truly felt like I fit in. Perhaps it has all just been a case of imposter syndrome, but even with a degree in design, I would still refer to myself as an anthropologist.
Over the course of one semester, I have begun to find my voice as a designer. While each course has brought me closer to adopting this identity, this seminar course has been one of the most significant influences on that discovery. Coming from a background in research and writing, I view writing as my strength and my greatest contribution to a team; however, I had never considered that skill as being connected to design. By writing and rewriting (and rewriting again), the final paper of the course, I began to realize that all of my previous papers and essays had been products of the design process and collaboration. They only emerge after multiple iterations, critiques, and rewrites based on user-testing (i.e. peer reviewing). Furthermore, I’ve come to see them as interactive with the potential to affect change. When I craft papers, the emphasis for me is on the flow of the argument or information. The reader should be taken on an adventure through the piece. It should be an enjoyable experience. It should leave the reader better informed as well as energized or inspired.
Moreover, writing the final paper gave me a better understanding of where I am situated in the design process. I feel that I am squarely in the conceptual/thinking/reflecting part of the equation, which I can’t say is a new thought for me. However, I used to be pretty insecure about this. While I see my skills as incredibly useful and necessary for effective design, I used feel that I defend my value in team-based projects. Since I find myself to be most useful at the beginning of the project, towards the end of projects, I would begin to feel like I had to prove my worth to the team as my making skills are less developed. Now, I feel confident in the value I bring to a team.
I left my home field of anthropology because I felt it was too passive. I was learning about cultures that had died out, recording customs and behaviors that would eventually fall out of favor, and was absolutely powerless to intervene. I did not want my life to be spent writing glorified travel logs while analyzing the systems around me, unable to develop the solutions I knew could exist. When I discovered design, I was overjoyed to have found a place where my skills and interests would fit in. The transition from anthropologist to designer was more difficult and stressful than I thought it’d be and it’s taken me over a year of design school to realize I had been framing the problem incorrectly. I should not have been looking at this change as a transition; it’s more of a metamorphosis. I started out as an anthropologist (arguably since I was a kid) and graduate school is my rite of passage. While I am still metaphorically in that liminal state, I have come understand where I am headed. I will emerge with the new title of “designer” and new responsibilities as a result. I am still an anthropologist, but I am also a designer. I am still the analytic observer, but now, I can share my insights visually as well as textually and, hopefully, can intervene in my own culture to help bring about a better future.