The Changing Role of the Designer Practical Human-Centered Design

I practice human centered design and human centered design to me has four basic principles. The first is we focus on the people. Second, we solve the real underlying problem, because quite often what we’re asked to solve is the symptom of the problem. But if we ask, well, why is that symptom there, we can find something that is so fundamental that the symptom goes away. Third, everything is a system. Things are related. You fix this and that’s a problem. You fix that. And if something else is a problem, you have to think of the entire set of interlocking interacting components.

And finally, we’re dealing with human beings here and human beings are difficult to understand and predict in an interesting, fascinating way what it means. We’re never going to get it right the first time. And so what we do is we quickly build something that’s much a mock up, doesn’t really work, but it looks like it’s working. And we can see how people might use it and we can see where the problems are. And we do it again and again and again. And each time we do it again, we get closer to a real product or or process or procedure or service. And eventually we get one that seems good enough. But, you know, it’s never perfect because people will change and they’ll start using the system in ways we hadn’t imagined. So we’re always iterating and improving. Those are the four principles I understand people focus on. The people think of it as solving the right problem, not the symptoms.

It’s a system and always be iterating and improving. Now, how do we do that?

Well, there are many different ways of doing this, and in my book, The Design of Everyday Things, I talk about a very logical, sensible way of doing it in which you start off. First of all, we watch and we observe and we understand how people do their activities and what’s important. Second, we think hard about what the issues really are. And we work with the people to understand what the underlying fundamental issues beneath that are. And we make sure we cover the system and all the people who are involved and all the different issues.

And finally, we build prototypes and test and build and understand. And so we do this in that order.

And it makes good, logical sense, in fact, the London Design Council says there’s a double diamond. The first diamond is where we try to understand the real issues are, and the second diamond is where we try to figure out what a possible solution is. Well, all that makes great sense and is wonderful if you’re teaching in the classroom and you have time to do that. But in the real world, we almost never do it that way.

So. Let me mention two or three issues with doing it that way. First of all, is that. There’s never a time when you’re working for a client or a company, as soon as you start, basically you’re over your budget and you’re behind schedule.

That’s because we were never given enough time to do the job the way we’d like to do it. And we’re never given enough money to do it the way we would like to do it. And so when we say, oh, we let’s go and study what people are doing now, we go watch them and observe them. The answer is, oh, yeah, you should be doing that. But there’s not enough time. And so how do we do this? Well, the other problem is that if you actually watch designers, this isn’t how they do things quite often, the first thing they do is build something. Oh, wait a minute. Shouldn’t that be last after we understand the problem and the people and all that? Nope, because it turns out if you build something rapidly and quickly and give it to people, you will learn a lot from how they interact with it. And so that actually is a way of asking the questions by giving them something that you’ve just built. And they play with it and they try to make use of it and they’ll show you what’s wrong or what’s good and you can build from there. So it’s a great probe of their interests, their desires, their needs or capabilities. So that violates what I’ve been talking about.


There’s one other thing, and that’s what I would call community based design. You know what?

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