Beyond User-Centric Design

Cast a proverbial stone out into the ether of the ‘nets about design-thinking and you’ll quickly be presented with endless fragments of user-focused, user-centric, consumer-based thinking models for product development.

To no surprise, these models reflect the deep-dive organizations use to quantify user behaviors, aspirational statements, needs, emotional drivers, lifestyles, and patterns.

As we know, it’s not what the user so much says, it’s what they actually do.

Gathering intel on users to define core benefits to drive product design is of primary importance.

But, what happens when there are possible externalities to investigate that go beyond user stories and feedback?

The second and less talked about, but equally important integration are externalities like, nature-inspired thinking (biomimicry), or experimental engineering, group thinking, or advanced materiality. Consumers just don’t have the visibility to these things and would most likely never come up in a focus group, or in-home immersion.

I wouldn’t expect consumers to have a pulse on the latest applicable MITLab research, or have the knowledge of a new biodegradable packaging solution made from mycelium — and that’s ok.

So, after you’ve completed segmentation, focus groups, immersions, and the like it is important to then investigate industries and cross-functional areas (oftentimes ancillary) to glean top-tech, forward-thinking processes in manufacturing, materials, and beyond.

In this way you are able to integrate these novel new approaches and then test them through qualitative consumer testing.

If it is truly the job of the designer to speak for the people whether they can articulate or not their needs, is it not then our duty to seek beyond user verbatim for additional complementary solutions to integrate?

One key factor is to not muddy the elegance for the sake of more attributes, but to amplify the wow factor.

I’m compelled to be cliche here and write in the Henry Ford, “Faster hose” anecdote, but it’s true.

Users have the ability to guide design, but truly compelling innovation usually comes from the benches of unknown tinkerers in labs. It is our job to properly gauge the readiness and applicability of such progressive thinking happening all around the world and bring it to the masses in the most elegant ways we possibly can.