“Design is all around you, everything man-made has been designed, whether consciously or not.” –Mat Hunter
Look around you. How many man-objects do you see? Each one of the objects before you has been designed to some degree by someone else and hopefully they did so with you in mind.
We often don’t notice design at all because when it is done well, design becomes unobtrusive and invisible. Unless the design of something is particularly bad, it will usually go completely undetected.
When design is bad it frustrates us, limits our capabilities, causes errors, and ultimately keeps us from achieving our goals. Good design empowers and allows us to accomplish more. Regardless of good or bad, like it or not, Design is everywhere. If design is everywhere around us how do we make sure it falls in the good category?
The Power of User-Centered Design
As a User Experience Designer I often get to see firsthand the incredible ability of design to create or transform, often times mediocre, products, software and services, into meaningful experiences that are not only easy-to-use but empower people to accomplish more. Within the UX design community, it is widely known that great experiences are created most effectively with Human Centered Design, and more specifically with what’s referred to as User-Centered Design (UCD). Not all UCD processes follow the exact same steps in their methods but they are all comprised of techniques that seek to understand the user so that they are at the heart of every design decision.
UCD processes are exceptionally good at solving problems people have when interacting with digital products. At their core, digital products operate solely based on logic and as much as we hate to admit it humans do not always operate 100% logically. This division between how we function compared to our digital counterparts, often creates an unpleasant friction and can sometimes results in drastic consequences. In order to bridge this gap UCD starts with the key to understanding people’s problems, empathy.
Empathy allows you to step into the shoes of another in order to not only identify with them but actually feel what they experience. Utilizing empathy like this allows for a deeper understanding and the discovery of the user’s fundamental needs. UCD keeps these needs at the core of every single decision made about the product. Centering all of the thinking around human needs ensures the solution does not deviate from the ultimate goal – solving the right problem.
Trying to solve the right problem doesn’t necessarily mean that you will solve the problem correctly on the first try. Do not get discouraged because it does mean you’re on the right track. UCD techniques allow for incorrect solutions and errors to be identified quickly by rapidly iterating and then validating these iterations with testing.
Following UCD methods is not only touted as the best way to churn out innovative results but has proven to be exceptionally profitable and cost effective for businesses.
After witnessing how UCD is so easily and effectively applied to problems in the digital space, I can’t help but wonder, “Why isn’t UCD applied to everything else people use?”. This question was the inspiration behind why I created this blog. I want to explore what happens when you start applying design thinking to areas where it is not often applied and/or to applications where it is desperately needed. I’m not the first to notice the applicability of these methods in other areas as they have been explored most notably by IDEO’s Tim Brown with his “Design Thinking” strategies and in Don Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things” but I think with the exponential pace of increasingly powerful technology we are on the verge of a huge revolution in how businesses and society runs and it is important that there are many design thinkers on the forefront to ensure a pleasant future for all of humanity.
The Power of Design in the Future
Without a doubt Design will be the most powerful force in shaping what the future looks like. Everything that is created has to be first designed. You can sit on the sidelines as the future is designed for you or you can have a hand in shaping what it will look like. Ultimately somebody makes the decisions about how the world around you looks and operates. The easiest way to have a hand in ensuring it works correctly is to envision the change you would like to see by designing it. In the end you are defined by your decisions, whether you say yes or no, but designers get to decide what the context and constraints of what those decisions will be.
As people’s expectations continue to become accustomed to the power of good design it will become increasingly mandatory and demanded from consumers that products and services have well designed experiences. This means that as a business you cannot afford not to apply design, and that as a society we stand too much to lose by not applying design.
If you want any say in what the future looks like you will have to be able to implement design thinking. Luckily designers do not have a monopoly on design thinking, as anyone can and should practice it. Design thinking is a tool that enables anybody to conquer seemingly unsolvable problems and provides meaningful solutions to people’s needs.