Urban Anthropology: User Experience Research for Urban Environments


Unexpected makeshift cafe seating on a sidewalk in NYC. (Photo by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman)

Urban anthropology may not be top of mind for most people (or most anthropologists for that matter), but I’m here to argue it is the key to creating livable cities for people. In fact, applying this concept to the management and design of our urban environments could be the single most important thing to ensure the livability of our urban future. This may sound outlandish, but I assure you it’s not so radical as it seems. Believe it or not, the methods used by urban anthropologists are surprisingly similar to a far more common staple of the design world: user experience research and design.

In the world of tech and product design, user experience (UX) is key. You basically can’t design something efficient for humans without it. From your favorite app to your web browser, that chair you’re sitting on to an egg beater, nearly everything goes through some kind of user testing before it’s ready for launch. Whether that’s by playtesters ahead of a video game release, or focus groups giving feedback on product messaging, vast amounts of research is being conducted in order to create the best product for “users” of all sorts.

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