A quick note to Taylor Ferrari, should she ever find this: sorry, I had to do it for class.
Taylor Ferrari is a designer, but the path she traveled to become one was anything but conventional.
Ferrari leads design research efforts for Empathy, a firm based in Wellington, New Zealand. Before she became a Kiwi, she did design here in America. But before that, she studied psychological anthropology (a niche that studies individuals’ sense of identity, memory, and mental health within their culture) at UCLA. So how does that lead to a career in human-centered design?
As I’ve noted many times on this blog, and as I’m sure you’ve heard hundreds of times, design is increasingly blurring the lines between itself and countless other academic and professional areas. Most people think of marketing or computer science as having natural overlap with graphic design, but as visual and interactive systems wiggle their way into every corner of our lives, needs for design expertise arise in unexpected places.
In a piece she wrote on Medium, Ferrari broke down a system in play on the remote Pacific island of Kiribati and relates its anthropological workings to design problems. Kiribati faces existential threat from the environmental strain brought on by climate change. In an effort to protect a nearby reef from overfishing, the island’s government subsidized coconuts to draw people to farm those instead of fish.
Much to their shock, the move actually increased fishing activity as part of an odd feedback loop. The coconut subsidies allowed farmers to earn more money in less time, leaving them extra time to do what they loved most: fishing. Ferrari pegged the subsidy’s unintended consequences as a failure to consider the very human motivations behind activities that we often overlook at such large scales — and a shortcoming that can be overcome with human-centered methods.
Ferrari’s experience and aptitude for dealing with large, complex, abstract societal systems drew her to work with the online real estate company REX, as well as in partnership with the New Zealand government with Empathy. Her efforts there have since improved the process of creating a small business, planning for retirement, and even navigating the airport.