Lest We Forget


In a nutshell, anthropology is the study of all that it means to be human and the cultural context within which we live. In essence, anthropology answers the question:

                   “What does it mean to be human?”  

It’s the scientific study of humankind; from species origins through development to modern day (including the mall, boardroom, and offices). Anthropology encompasses a holistic view of a person and their environment by blending sociology, linguistics, biology and psychology into a more complete picture. As with all social sciences, it embraces an inductive approach to understanding and starts from a cultural perspective. Ethnography aims for holism, ethnographers seek out the whole story and pay attention to human behavior from many angles

Anthropology is also “comparative” and “cross-cultural”. It is a comparative field in that it examines all societies, ancient and modern; simple and complex. It systematically compares data from different populations and time periods. However, the other social sciences tend to focus on a single society whereas anthropology offers a unique cross-cultural perspective by constantly comparing the customs of one society with those of others. 


Everything begins with culture. Culture is a learned set of shared beliefs, values, norms, traditions and taboos. Everything is data. The furniture, how people decorate, what they throw

away, what people say and what people don’t say, it is all data.Every purchase decision is made within the cultural context:

  • Geographic culture (Indian, American, Southern, Silicon Valley)
  • Industry culture (engineers, product managers, nurses, taxi drivers)
  • Company culture (Microsoft, Yahoo, P&G, Harley Davidson)
  • Lifestyle culture (surfer, emo, techie, biker, neat-freak)
  • Religious culture (Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Atheist)


Both a methodology and a product of research, ethnography is a grounded, inductive method that heavily relies on participant- observation. These days, the term “ethnography” is used fairly loosely and expectations and final outcomes vary as much as the people calling themselves ethnographers.

  • It meets people where the action occurs
  • It is inductive
  • It does not go into the field with answers running
  •  It is focused on systems, practices and beliefs
  • Everything is data
  • It is focused for business objectives
  • It is best done in teams
  • It uses culture and shared knowledge as the center of investigation


Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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