Design Ethnography: Reinvention the QingmingGuo mould

In the journal Design Ethnography, Salvador, Bell and Anderson talked about the importance of using studying ethnography as a way of design research, and they provide it by pondering the relationships between the American family room and the Italian table, between food shopping and the importance of friendship. From here, people will see how something exists, how it is embedded in a relationships and associations. The design ethnography makes connections between different cultures and teaches us about other cultures.

The original mould is a hand tool used to making QingmingGuo in Tomb-sweeping Day, which is when Chinese commemorate their deceased relatives and swept their tombs. The mould is like a racket, the structure including a handle and a racket face, there are two moulds with classic patterns in the face. The mould is made of camphorwood.  When it was made, it pervaded camphorwood odour, but now it smells like sesame oil mixed with grass juice. Several days before the festival, People made dough of flour, glutinous rice flour, and juice of wormwood. Then they greased mould with sesame oil, put sweetened bean paste into the dough, worked the dough into moulds, pressed it flat, and tapped it out. After that, the QingmingGuo were put into a bamboo food steamer and steamed.

The model of the mould I made in wood shop and plastic lab is a reinvention of the original one. In the process of making the plastic model, I use the wood model as a pattern to shape the plastic sheet. Before I stick the upper and bottom pieces together, I put dried flowers and leaves in the model to replace the odour.

In Design Ethnography, the authors said “Design ethnography gives us a language and a set of practices for talking about this ongoing invention and reinvention of products, meanings, and culture (Salvador, Bell & Anderson, 36)”; “Each environment values different behaviours and skills (37)” and “Design ethnography, both in its practices and insights (41)”. These points could include the way design ethnography’s direction of doing research, and the value the research and study of design ethnography. Design ethnography dig deeper to looking into the tool people use and using their research to design something new. Those new experience or new products will bring to another culture, and make the other culture understand the original experience. In the same way, the reinvention of the mould of QingmingGuo leads to the Chinese tradition. So the mould and the tomb-sweeping day can be understood as the ethnography research of part of Chinese custom. The mould represented a historical experience from a big family and also the spirit of its material and the process of making Qingming Guo.

Another argues is “why we use design ethnography”. By redo the QingmingGuo mould, the complete experience of the mould show a complete history and process instead a concept poster or a visual representation. The experience of using the mould in another country can be understood as a metaphor for a new product based on design ethnography. The handle of the new mould is exactly the same with the original one but it feels different without the yearly usage of it. The patterns carved in the mould are different from all fashion styles in this country but it shows aesthetic with this mould. All these differences provide a deeper experience of traditional Chinese than show them with visual resource.

Generally speaking, the reinvention of the QingmingGuo mould provides an interesting experience of doing ethnography research. With my poor handmade skills and advanced machine, the making process of the mould let me see through the history of the original mould and thinking about the process of my ancestors making the mould. This process brings old life style to me as well as design ethnography brings one culture to another.



Salvador, T., Bell, G., & Anderson, K. (1999). Design Ethnography. Design Management Journal (Former Series),10(4), 35-41.

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