Anthropology at Intel


Product design is no longer about scientists sitting in their offices (mostly in the West) to develop products (for the entire world, including the inscrutable East – atleast where technology is concerned) and launching beta versions for testing and refining. Anthropological methods (tweaked to suit commercial needs) being increasingly used by large technology companies are taking design to the end user – observing their everyday interactions with the product and taking out insights that can be quite startling.

Lorenz of antropologi points to this article on Intel’s eforts at user research.

In a bid to eventually sell more chips, Intel plans to announce Monday that it has set up four new offices around the world that are staffed with anthropologists and engineers to help design computers with features for emerging markets.

Traveling from dusty rural villages in India to busy Internet cafés in Brazil, these Intel employees will collect data from weather to the content needs of people in regions where computers are not yet popular.

This effort began with China where Intel sent ethnographers to study how people interact with technologies. And they have plans for India too – Intel is working on a project targeting farming communities in India, where heat and unreliable power supply present challenges for keeping and using a PC. The company expects to launch a PC for this market next year, said Mr. Agatstein.

Here is an interesting observation study on mobile phone usage : Mobile Phone Users: A Small-Scale Observational Study

HP calls this process contextual invention – here is the HP research conducted study by HP in partnership with IMRB and Human Factors International – Contextual Invention: A multi-disciplinary approach to develop business opportunities and design solutions. This approach can be seen as a development of Contextual Design in which social and cultural factors are considered in the deployment of an existing technology. We call this approach Contextual Invention because the aim of the social science research is to inspire and generate new technology inventions with high social and business value. After an initial phase of ethnographic fieldwork looking at media use in India, the project team worked up new business and design proposals in three high-value areas.


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