Are you interested in culture, society, people, how they behave and why they do the things they do? If so, you might have the ingredients that it takes to become an anthropologist.
Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures. For the past hundred years or so, it hasn’t exactly been a booming business in the job market—mostly a bunch of university professors living in jungles, deserts, cities and villages to understand and write about the lives of people around the world. But that’s all changed.
Today, hundreds of anthropologists can be found working for some of the world’s biggest technology companies and design firms. What do they do? Well, they talk to people, watch people, think about people and they work with people to help big companies create their next generation of products and services. In the past 10 years, anthropologists have played a role in the design of smartphones, cars, computers, banking products, hotel experiences, packaged foods, and more. In the next 10 years, that ‘hundreds of anthropologists’ is going to become ‘thousands of anthropologists’ as the world’s biggest companies realize that you can’t design great products or services without understanding the people who might use them.
What would you do as an anthropologist working in design? Chances are, you’ll travel around the world meeting strangers, interviewing them, hanging out with them and learning about what they need, what they love and what could make their lives better. From this, you will produce glimpses into the lives (and meaning of lives) of potential customers that will shape how products and services are designed.
What do you need to get there? Well, you’re going to need a master’s degree at the very least—though having a PhD will give you more seniority and probably get you more money.
How can you prepare? Read a lot, especially about any topic that has to do with people, society or culture. Then read more about topics like product design, service design, and innovation. Then, if you’ve got a particular interest like health, ritual, religion, politics, economics, or art, read that too. And finally, be curious. Anthropologists are curious types. They are fascinated by people and constantly wonder why they do what they do.
Ten years from now and beyond, the ability to harness real curiosity is going to be an even greater asset in the business and design world than it is today. As a future career, helping people understand other people could put you in the mix of creating the next Apple, Twitter or BMW.