Design is an affair of heart too

We go to the users. Ask questions.

We come back to our conference rooms.

Fill it up with sticky notes. Drink coffee. Build affinity diagrams.

We retire to our desks. Crunch the data.

Fit things into the well trodden frameworks and models.

Prepare reports. Garnish the Powerpoints.

And, we are ready for the next phase of design.

Now, we are ready to create great products for our users. After all, we know all those methodologies — ethnographic studies, contextual inquiry, protocol analysis — so well. The user should be happy. We had been empathetic. We listened to him while we created great products and services for him.


Mostly. But there is a small hitch. The so called ‘user’ is actually a human being. He has a mind of his own. Surprisingly, he also has feelings and emotions. Even more, he has a sense of being.

Sense of being — a sense of purpose, of one’s being in his world, as well as in the world…

A user is not a data point on the Excel chart. Nor he is the archetypal persona on the PowerPoint slide. Neither is he an unknown dot on the map of demographics.

He is a thinking-feeling-living sentient being.

So, how does it matter?

Not easy to say. But let us appreciate how do the things change when we design a mobile phone for our own fathers. Suddenly, it is not just about what dad can do or not in terms of navigation and information search. It is now also about why his voice gets choked while talking to his eldest daughter in the USA. It is also about why he forced himself to learn Skype, when her first one was born. It is also about why he still stubbornly refuses learn WhatsApp and says he will rather meet his friends in the park.

Then, why should be a rural farmer just be some kind of social actor only interested in finding the best agricultural prices? Where are the products that help him find how could his son enter into IIT (farmers do send their son to IITs. Why they can’t?). Or, where is the social app that helps him excitedly share with his brother in law the new variety of eggplant he saw in Punjab, when he goes to the agricultural university as part of delegation from all over the country? (ए भाऊ, बघा मी काय बघितलो येथे - O brother, see what I have seen here…).

On a different note, how can we design for people from Jaisalmer and Leh and Margao (or, shall I spell Margão) without considering them, well, people, and not subject matter of Google images? They live their lives just like anybody else. They, too go to work. They have their own mix of transportation systems. Their children go to school. They socialize. They buy CDs. The have their contexts.

So, how could one design for people from Dharavi or Yamuna Pushta without considering them, well, people. They, too, earn livelihood of dignity and send their children to school.

Arey bhai, my whole point is that in order to design well, we need to understand our users well. All our frameworks and methodologies are fine, but a little compassion, a little empathy……a willingness to see the shared humanity inside the person in front of me…….an insistence on not considering any sentient being as an object of analysis — a data point should make a difference.

Why it shouldn’t?

They say ‘impedance matching’ in electrical engineering. Owing to some sort of mismatch, there is a block between two circuits. It does not allow the energy to flow freely. When one makes two circuits compatible to each other, the problem is solved.

What we need is impedance matching in design process. This can only be achieved through a sense of empathy, through the recognition that the person before us is also sentient human being. Only then we could understand the full spectrum of nuances of what goes under the umbrella of user requirements.

Could we think of Design and Karuṇā (as practiced in Buddhism) together?

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.