The Atlantic

What Designers Can Learn From a Pioneering Anthropologist

Clifford Geertz revolutionized cultural anthropology. Can his ideas also change how we assess what consumers need?
Source: Leah Millis / Reuters

A "thick description" is the intellectual and literary act of describing what happens during an interview with a research participant. It's a reflection upon what one saw as an interpretation of behavior within a certain context. Or as Geertz says, it's a sorting through of "webs of significance that (man) himself has spun."

When the Internet caught on over a decade ago, companies wanted to learn why people were browsing and what exactly by expanding the designer's field of vision to include things on the periphery of the participant's life that, while indirect to the topic of study, influence them in meaningful ways.

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