Thursday, October 9, 2008

Understanding Food: Anthro-Design Research

Understanding Food: Anthro-Design Research in the DCC class at Bangalore
Prof M P Ranjan
Quoted with permission from "Design Concepts & Concerns" blog

Image 1: Presentation by the Tamilnadu group in session at the NID Bangalore Centre. The group chose to build a flow chart of their understanding and the presentation uses a “story-board” that was represented like a film strip from the Tamil cinema story as shown in the illustration below. The storyboard was personified by the image of “Annaswamy” their man from Tamilnadu, from childhood to old age, and the food for all seasons brought into sharp focus by the overlapping threads of their story.

The first assignment at NID Bangalore dealt with mapping ones own knowledge about food and each group had a particular bias from which their knowledge was to be mapped and shared with the rest of the class. As describer earlier this thematic bias plays a strong role on how the subject is addressed and it even shapes the perception of the situation and this was quite evident in the various interpretations that were exhibited by the groups, each working with Climate, Region and Culture, as their given bias for investigation and articulation. While I did not specifically tell the students that they were not expected to do elaborate research on their subject of food with the bias assigned to each group, they did not have the time to do such research and all the teams had to fall back on their well of knowledge that resided in their collective memories and from which they drew quite liberally through a process of brainstorming, categorization and articulation to show their models and constructs on the given subject FOOD – with the bias of Climate, Region and Culture.

Image 2: The ‘story board” shown by the Tamilnadu group who used the persona of a young Tamil software engineer to represent their understanding of the chosen theme of “Food from Tamilnadu” shown here as a life time story, a journey from the cradle to a ripe old age, very interesting indeed.

The Second assignment saw the groups fanning out to various places in Bangalore to carry out direct contact research in the mode of “anthro-design” with each group being assigned to a particular region State of South India. The assigned States were that of Tamilnadu, Andhra and Karnataka, each assigned through a draw of lots, which was done on behalf of the group by their student coordinator. The group members then went into a huddle and made a plan for gathering information and this information strategy played out over the next three days with the groups meeting and exploring Food and eating places in Bangalore, each looking at their respective State issues and trying to make sense of the vast field that could be covered by the omnibus assignment with very low definition and broad interpretation. As designers they were to investigate the subject directly from the field in live contact with ‘experts” and ‘stakeholders’ from whom they could get valuable insights about their assigned subject – FOOD from one of the three chosen States of South India.

Image 3: The Karnataka group looked at the business of Food and explored the various dimensions of Karnataka cuisine as well as the typical resources of the State as they had discovered through their engagement with their contacts and eating-places across Bangalore city.

The Udipi café, MTR – “Mavali Tiffin room” and Café Coffee Day success story played strongly on the minds of this group and shaped the story that they had to share with the class through their wall size model and their mega success stories of food and the potential for a revolution from the State of Karnataka to the world at large. Their presentation was located in the basement workshop space of the NID Bangalore Centre and they impressed with their scale and sense of structure that was achieved in their model.

Image 4: The Andhra group was shocked by the stories of poverty and distress that came from many of their contacts across the migrant labour now in Bangalore. Their installation, which is the appropriate term that can best describe the assembly of objects, sarees and posters that the group assembled to tell their story, was colourful and then filled with coloured light and everything turned red….

Making contact with live sources of informants in the field is so important for design students since it is important for them to learn that what they need is not knowledge of the kind found in books as much as getting a feel of the situation and in picking up specific insights that would give them a sense of direction and a glimpse of the way the trends shaped up in their area of investigation. It is here that anthro design as a subject area gets appreciated and some degree of competence is built up in handling such research where book based knowledge would certainly not fill the need. This kind of experience would be useful for design students and through these experiences they would also learn about research strategies to be used in the field and the whole range of processes of making contact, making observations, meetings and interviews as well as processing the rich data from the field in order to glean insights about latent needs and future possibilities are all critical for design education.

Prof M P Ranjan

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