2011 Application Essay

What is your definition of design and why should design exist?

Design is the study and practice of using form, color, and relationships to develop solutions for visual communication problems with the objective of clearly articulating a message to a target audience. It is distinct from other artistic endeavors because of a lesser emphasis on personal expression. Instead, designers are trained to conceptualize and organize effective visual interpretations of client’s messages that will have the intended effect in the attitude and behavior of the target audience.

Understanding the culture of the audience is essential to effective communication and the field of design achieves this by harnessing the cultural codes, symbolism, narrative strategies, values, and other visual rhetoric of a society. Design engages in an intimate conversation with the spirit of a society in order to develop and utilize a visual vocabulary that can not only achieve a consensus of interpretation and acceptance but can instill in the audience an intuitive sense of interconnection with as well. These observations and insights offer a unique vantage point to social and cultural paradigms and can even serve as a legitimate subject of sociological and anthropological exploration. Therefore, design plays a role as a mantle and signifier of each societies worldview, validating itself as a valuable and significant discipline.

Design doesn’t merely serve to reflect society back to itself however, but through the creative spirit for which it rests, it helps to shape and define its culture by drawing on memory, creativity, and imagination to expand the realities and uncover new possibilities. Design also preserves the integrity of a culture by crafting a focused narrative out of the incessant cacophony of a cluttered world that is all too often oriented towards instant gratification and basal prerogatives. Separating the worthless, trivial, and false from the valuable, relevant, and true and finding within the swirling chaos an underlying substance of surprising breadth and significance. As with traditional art, music, and literature, making an impact through creative interpretations of culture is the driving force of design that excites, inspires, and informs each member of the culture to take part in their communities and endeavor to pursue positive futures for their society.

I am drawn to the field of design not only because of the unique insights and observations that are gained from its intense focus on popular culture from a creative vantage point, but also because of the opportunity to interpret and shape that culture as well. The expectation of the audience for taking the time to look will always fundamentally be to be entertained, but design differentiates itself from traditional art by requiring a specific message and allowing less room for visual stimulation as its own end. I see design as the meeting place of an exploration of mainstream cultures threshold of acceptance for existential authenticity and a search for the sophistication and stylishness of the archetypal hero’s journey in life.


About Brandon Meyer

I have worked as a web and graphic designer and was originally a design major before deciding to transfer to anthropology with the goal of advancing to Design Anthropology. I am now moving on into my Master's in Design anthropology in the pioneering program at the University of North Texas. Even before discovering the promising field of Design Anthropology, I viewed anthropology as an avenue for design inspiration through a deeper dive into peoples lived experiences within the cultural melting pot. However, my foray into anthropology broadened my perspective and inevitably presented challenges to popular conceptions of representation, innovation, and progress. Design Anthropology is a new field between anthropology and design that has culminated from decades of collaboration in design and HCI, including participatory design, CSCW, ubiquitous computing, UX and user-centred design. Drawing from participatory- speculative- and critical-design, DA reimagines human-centred design by situating and critically engaging design concept and process with everyday life as both a resource for and outcome of design. While traditional ethnographic research continues to play a role, Design Anthropologists conduct speculative fieldwork both of, and within, codesign events as a new line of inquiry into "the possible". Exploring emerging practices, meaning-making, and assemblages as matters of concern in moments of change and innovation as well as the codesign events themselves as collaborative, generative activities. My approach therefore is not as an anthropologist working in the field of design, but to practice Design Anthropology as an emerging field within design. Following the dictum of Design Anthropology that design is not merely a final, prescribed, solution to straightforward problems, but is a temporally and socially embedded arena that inhabits a wide range of perspectives of lived experiences where practices of use are continuously improvised and recontextualized.

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