Design, marketing and anthropology


I will be on the Design Matters with Debbie Millman show today from 3:00-4:00 (eastern standard) on Call in live, toll free: 866-233-7861.

I prepared these briefing notes for myself, things I hope we will talking about:

1) lifestyle design. 

There is an opportunity here and the market has yet to supply.  Most of us have cultivated a diverse portfolio of selves.  We are several people and we will be free and forced to be several more before the game is up. 

Most of us are a "crowded house," many persona, not always on the best of terms.  Some of us are actually more like a motel, with several of the personae that make up personhood are strangers to one another.

Some of these selves are self created, but some are taken from the media market place (movies, novels, games).  I actually learned something about selves I didn’t know lurked within in the final moments of the PC version of Blade Runner.  Some part of me has been shaped by my reverence for certain intellectuals, celebrities, and politicians. 

Some of the selves come from or are at least shaped by lifestyles.  I venture to say the Punk movement shaped all of us, as did, if you’re old enough, the preppie movement.  (Diverse, see.)

But there is plenty more to do here, and part of the problem is that there is no professional to whom this responsibility of lifestyle invention now falls.  So there are two possibilities (roughly speaking): existing design take this on as a new responsibility and a new design professional springs up, peopled, most probably, by Hollywood script writers, novelists, account planners, ad biz creatives and other people who routinely find themselves in the invention game.

I wonder what Debbie and her listeners will say.  Certainly, they can comment on the likelihood of option 1.

2) implications of the supposed "death" of TV advertising.  As more marketing happens on line, in game, and on shelf, what does this mean for design. I think it has to be new emphasize on brand and package design.  In many cases, this will be the only visible part of the brand messages. 

3) how can designers help address the "profusion of choice" problem. 

4) how can designers help still the world.  In a dynamic world, there is new value to be had from clarity and calm.  Designers control the means of production here. 

5) how to build brands that are both responsive and still.  To be brands are coolhunting, when this is only a part of what they need to do to create value.  The perfect brand looks like a sailing ship from the 18th century, with ballast meanings it will carry with it always, cargo that changes with each voyage (campaign, brand manager, or deep trend) and the sails that can be adjusted to pick up every sudden change in consumer taste and preference. 

6) I hope we’ll have a chance to talk about the Honda spot of a couple of years ago that shows a Rube Goldberg cartoon made from Honda parts.  I think we could take this as a piece of design that forswears some of the classic principles of design in order to build a model of a dynamic culture and the operation of emergent properties. 

Hope you can join us. 


You can see the Honda spot here.

5 thoughts on “Design, marketing and anthropology

  1. Carol Gee

    Grant, the other “selves” we always have with us are the psychological ones: “Kid” selves of various ages, a “Critical Parent” self, a “Nurturing Parent” self, and an “Adult/Smart” self. I believe that my clothes shopping is peopled by one of those selves. That is why I am often disappointed with purchases later, because I am no longer in that self at home-or wherever. So much of advertising speaks to the unconscious, huh?

  2. Donny H

    Grant, does a person who falls under the category of those who haven’t (by choice or circumstances notwithstanding)”cultivated a diverse portfolio of selves” generally fail in life, or is perceived as such by others when this person’s lifestyle is measured against mainstream’s standards constituting what is success?

    An interesting blog, by the way.


  3. Peter

    Re the sailing ship of (5): As always, Grant, your ability to create stunningly-apt metaphors and analogies is awesome! Perhaps this is a result of training as an anthropologist: having to learn about, think inside, and translate between, different cultures. Have you ever thought of refining and selling *this* capability? Metaphors-R-Us, say?

  4. Grant

    Carol Gee, yes, that’s one of the production houses that gives us new selves, but I think we are also multiplying culturally, so that I have an accumulation of selves as produced by each decade (and my disco self still has the very worst sense of taste in clothes) and we are multiplying perspectivally. I can now see things from an employer, employee, owner, investor, stock broker’s point of view (not because I’ve been all those things but because I am beginning to see how they see, if you see what I mean). It ends up being quite a group. Someday we’ll all go out for a pic nic. Thanks, Grant

    Donny H, thanks, I don’t think so, success can’t be measured in selves, but in a dynamic culture, it’s hard to imagine someone flourishing unless they can manage a certain diversity. Not impossible, just much harder. Thanks, Grant

    Peter, you are too kind, sir. I only wish I could sell it. Best, Grant

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