Anna Kirah is a true provocateur in her field of work. As the first-ever hired anthropologist at Microsoft, she’s been at the forefront of developing methods and products with users – or people as she says – in focus.
Anna Kirah was headhunted to Microsoft back in 1999 and was the first anthropologist in a company with over 70,000 employees at the time. Although, when they first called her to offer her the position, she had never even heard of the tech company – less so about software.
Nevertheless, she took the job and soon proved to be vital when she started working with the company's hypothesis that people could manage to set up their PCs at home in 3 hours, when in fact it took them well over 12 and a lot of frustration without heavy support.
– They had never related or listened to ordinary people, only to professionals. For me, it goes back to our basic need to be seen, heard, and understood. That's what I hope I contribute to everything I do in my life. If I can get people to greet me in the elevator, then I have achieved a lot, Anna explained in an article with Aftenposten back in 2012.
This first realization was the start of the development and implementation of “Real people, real data”, a global initiative built on ethnographic methods which brought user involvement to the forefront of technology design and development – which she was responsible for.
Anna Kirah continued her work at Microsoft in the role of Chief Design Anthropologist for Windows, MSN, Windows Live, mobile services, embedded software solutions, and digital media. “Real People Real Data” was the first people-centered design effort where services and products were actually made together with the end-users who Kirah emphatically calls people. Since this time, service design, design thinking, and design anthropology have exploded as useful methods and tools in designing for change.
Anna Kirah is known to make bold statements. Like at last year's Service design days in Barcelona:
Fuck design thinking, move to transdisciplinary thinking. Fuck your ego, be equal thinkers in a transdisciplinary world.
She believes that focusing on meaning instead of technology better equips the industry for the transformations occurring, including digital transformations. Technologies are not solutions, they are enablers to the needs people have to solve the challenges they have in their day-to-day lives. She advocates finding a balance between technology and humanity and she does this by having a focus on system design and transformation.
As a provocative design anthropologist, Anna Kirah is an expert in cutting-edge qualitative research methods used to understand the articulated and unarticulated needs of people. We are looking forward to having her on stage at From Business to Buttons 2022.