Human-Centered Design

Good design is not just making things look pretty.

Aesthetics are the icing on the cake. What about the cake? Human beings are multifaceted. Design solutions should be too. Design solutions that merely look good, but do not consider the deeper questions of how the user will engage with the product, the environment in which the product will be used, and the perspective of the culture from which it is viewed, will fall short. When a human-centered approach is employed successfully, and considers the user’s needs first, everyone wins. The end product resonates more deeply with an audience, which results in strong engagement and growth. Have your cake and eat it too (don’t just look at it).

Today’s users expect more.

Today we are part of an experience economy. Thank the Industrial Revolution. Standardization at the turn of the 19th century made it easier to make goods, and easier to consume goods. The Arts & Crafts Movement fought back against “useless toil and degradation of the environment for useless goods,” by honoring human skill in creation. History tends to repeat itself, but sometimes ups the ante. Today, we are no longer satisfied with goods made inexpensively, or even goods made well; we thirst for a life-changing experience. In the developed world, we have moved from passive consumption to active participation. For design, this means that we must consider the complete experience surrounding a product or communication, not just the form or content.

Design outside the vacuum.

  1. The only way to come up with game-changing solutions is to reframe the game. To make a product that will change a user’s life, we need to understand the user and reframe the problem from his or her perspective. This means asking questions. Lots of questions. Solutions will only satisfy the user if they actually solve the user’s problems, not those of a company or development team.
  2. Get out. To understand the requirements of the user, the user environment, and those influencing the product interaction, it is important to get in-context and observe.
  3. Fail. Often. Making prototypes and performing user testing as rapidly as possible will ensure survival of the fittest ideas. Often the development of a truly innovative idea is not the result of tried linear development of proven concepts, but failing a few times and finding a better way.
  4. Collaborate. True innovation is also often the result of cross-pollination. Velcro, the amazing technology that holds our world together in thousands of ways, resulted from examining a nuisance plant in nature. Working with engineers, psychologists, and business leaders, designers can better address the multifaceted needs of humans. Together, they can innovate beyond incremental improvement and work toward changing lives.