Design Methods #35 – Artefact Analysis

Artefact analysis is the systematic evaluation of objects in their natural environment. Artefact analysis looks at the material, aesthetic and usage qualities of any object in order to understand its physical, social and cultural context. It has been used frequently by anthropologists to understand other cultures, and is increasingly used in design and research to understand the lives of people through the things that surround them.

In such analysis, the emphasis is much more on the object than on its owner, and what it tells us about people and the culture, time and place in which they live. It can consist of a quantitative inventory of items in the chosen environment, as well as a qualitative investigation into the materials, manufacture, usage and even disposal of the items. Aesthetic analysis can include a visual assessment, historical context (whether an item can be tied to a specific time or place), and the aesthetics of the experience of using the object, including evaluation of the emotional significance and meaning of the object to the owner or user. Interaction analysis looks at the practical use of the object (if there is one), including its functionality, technology at a personal and also a social level, including the behaviours associated with use, some help from experts may be needed.

Artefact analysis includes evaluation of the location of objects, public and private, where they are kept, shown and used, and their relationship with other objects. It always includes visual documentation as well as not taking against a set of criteria (including some but not necessarily all of the items discussed here). It is usually conducted in people’s homes or workplaces as part of other studies seeking to understand the lives, lifestyles, goals and concerns of a specific target consumer. T0 learn more about the application of artefact analysis in anthropology and market research, read Stuff by Daniel Miller.


Universal Methods of Design by Martin & Hanington

Stuff by Daniel Miller

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