I get a few inquiries each semester from students looking for information on how to get into user experience design, especially those with an anthropology background. I generally try to respond to each of these separately as they each have their own perspective and needs, however, this semester I am trying to get my dissertation defended on top of my every day job as a UXD (which is getting more complicated by the minute). So, rather than leave these unanswered, I am providing a public response here that includes the most common things I share. If you have comments or questions, please leave them! It will be easier for me to respond to those here than individual emails and you may help someone else who has a similar inquiry.
Thank you for reaching out to me. Let me start out by saying that having a background in anthropology will lend itself greatly to UX design, however, it is only one part. My suggestion is to consider opportunities where you will be asked to learn to program or script (even just HTML/CSS) and have real users use what you create. This is not necessarily where your career path as a UXD will take you, but creating something, having users use it, and then having to “fix” it to make it better for them, will provide you with insight that no degree program will ever do.
After that, I suggest looking into classes in cognitive psychology and information architecture or information behavior. Adding those to your anthropology perspective will help you find out what users want and then understand what they really need – which may be two separate things. 😉
As for internships, consider looking into the agency world. What I mean by that is marketing/creative agencies that do campaigns for other companies. Not that you want to go into marketing, I prefer the high tech/application world myself, but it allows you to see how UX is applied to multiple groups of people and projects in a short amount of time. A lot of times you can find UXD or IA (information architecture) opportunities – both of which would be beneficial to you.
I also suggest looking into these authors: Steve Krug, Don Norman, Jakob Nielsen, Jesse James Garrett, Luke Wroblewski, Lois Rosenfield, and Peter Morville (These are just off the top of my head, they will give you a good introduction to user experience design – but there are plenty more out there to learn from!)
And I suggest taking a look at the UX Slack channel that has UXers from all over the world lending their perspectives to the field (and it may lead to internship opportunities).
I hope that helps!
There is a lot that could be added to this, however, I feel it is a great place for people to start. I definitely recommend everyone going into user experience design have some sort of programming or scripting background where people have had to use what you create. My biggest failure as a developer led me to becoming a UXD and in my particular field I use skills I learned as a systems administrator/developer all the time. Not that I do those things anymore, but my past experiences and my understanding of those things definitely help inform me how to make those things easier for others to do. And really, that’s the best part of being an anthropologist and a UXD – being able to use your own experiences to inform your designs. That is, after all, what participant observation is all about!
To learn more about my professional experience, please visit my design and ethnography site.
p.s. This may be edited and updated as I have time. If you have questions/comments – please post them!