We can see tons of great ideas in the world. These are all great solutions to slow down the hypothetically coming armageddon. Is this our real problem? Can we solve issues thousands of miles away from us? Yes, we can! We can design solutions not for the world, but for ourselves.
The world does not want to be saved. Every problem that you see is a result of your personal perception of your past. I’ll talk about why you should work on yourself, before helping others.
Two stories: a theory and a practice
In the spring during the restrictions, I started a new volunteering project. Grocery shopping for elderly people.
When Hungary was closed and people were stuck at home, I wanted to do a useful activity. Once a week I managed drug purchasing, payment of utility bills and weekly shopping for senior people. Before I started to do this activity, I wanted to develop an application to help these senior people to make their lives better during the lockdown. I was lucky, some of my friends were engaged in designing a software, so we started brainstorming and carried out research. What happened to these two types of activities? I’m going to tell you after introducing myself.
Hello, my name is Peter Klein, I’m a senior UX designer at GE Healthcare. I work on software to support doctors so that they can focus on patients. Being an education enthusiast, I lead a renowned UX course in Budapest. So you may say I’m the helper type.
The title of my talk for today is in connection with my helper habit: “What designers can do instead of saving the world”.
This presentation is about my inner journey as a designer, not design techniques. Better designers can design better products.
A failed product means an iteration in the designer’s journey of progression.
This is a story about my personal growth. I wanted to save the world but I failed and learnt what to do instead. Today, you will hear two parallel stories about my journey in seemingly two different topics, designing a software and doing grocery shopping. But actually they are both about helping. One for theory, one for practice. Let’s start with theory.
Designing in front of a computer can be effective, but there is a chance that it won’t connect to the real world. If you start with trying to save the world, you will most likely fail. Failed projects are good opportunities for us, but do not move the world forward. Start small.
When I started thinking on the solution of how this situation can be handled with senior people stuck at home, my first thought was:
I’m a ux designer, I’m going to do this like I do my job.
Define a vision, do research, define a problem statement, do interviews, ideations, tests and so on. With my friends, we talked to a lot of people, read articles and tried to find similar applications.
As time passed, the picture was getting clear to me. These people don’t need any software or application, their motoric functions do not fit for a mobile phone, they don’t even have smartphones, they don’t have any desktop computers. Even if they have a computer at home, they don’t trust a website to give their personal information and so on.
The location was really important, some of my friends did research in big cities, whereas my focus was on smaller and underprivileged areas. The difference was significant. People in small cities would not be able to use this service.
Our mindset needed to change. Next step was to start to investigate the care service and volunteer side of the thing, where organization of helper activities happen. They had all the information about senior people who needed help. It was crystal clear at this point of the research, that they also wouldn’t have the resources to use the application, they only use paper for administration.
Time has come to consider the value and the effort. This phase took me 2 or 3 weeks to realize that this idea is a more complicated problem than I thought. There was a big gap between fantasy and reality.
Gaps like this, can be different in such a phase, like
- time gap,
- age gap,
- distance gap,
- knowledge gap.
In my case, the age gap was the first problem. I, as a young designer, tried to improve elderly people’s lives. Make their lives better. But at this point I knew, I couldn’t do it this way. The need didn’t fit the ideas.
If I just remember back my grandparents, what they wanted, what they needed: they were old and as far as I knew them, they only wanted to be listened to a voice call from their loved ones or a 30 minutes personal visit. They did not trust in new technology, they did not want to learn anything new. — Sure, it’s my family, my perceptions. Maybe you know someone who wants to learn new technology at 90 years old, but it’s unusual here in Hungary.
This was the story of how far I got with the application. This was familiar to me, I worked for software development companies before, that were also stuck in thinking only about solutions.
Okay, this was enough about theory and research. Let’s see what happened on the field. The second part of my talk is about problem solving, I’d like to talk about practice now.
During this time, I already started to do grocery shopping.
I talked about gaps before, I guess the most common gap in volunteering is distance. I can’t help others on other continents, I don’t know them, I don’t know their behavior, their pain points. Also, my hand can’t help, I can’t reach them, they are far away. When someone from Hungary is telling me that she or he is trying to save lions in Africa without knowing anything about that situation is always puzzling for me, because it’s not tangible.
So, start locally.
Don’t just talk and wonder, do something useful. This was the main inspiring sentence in my mind.
I searched for the keywords on google: grocery shopping for elderly people and I typed my city’s name. I found an email address and wrote them. After a couple of days, I got a call and I visited the organizers. I got the instructions on how to contact a woman and a man, two senior people in need.
The woman’s daughter lived in Germany, so she could not come to visit her mother. She talked a lot about her grandchild, and how she felt during homeschooling.
The man lived alone, he was not so talkative. I think he was distrustful about this type of “service”.
So what did this service look like?
- I went to visit them,
- asked for their shopping list,
- went to the shop, and
- bought the stuff.
Then I came back, gave them the products and the change, said some kind words to them and said goodbye. I left and came back later on other days.
I thought, I’m a great researcher, so I tried to prepare myself for everything.
- Like alternative items, if something was missing.
- Different portions in case the exact pack was missing.
- Price categories, because they don’t have too much money.
The first time I went to the vendor to buy 300 grams sausage for a man. The lady’s question was: pork or chicken? Ahhh, this was the time when I realized I did not prepare myself properly, I said: pork. — it was a guess.
I had to iterate my todo list for the next time, because I didn’t know the answer for this simple question. It was a risk, what if the old man doesn’t like or eat pork.
Luckily, he liked it.
For these two people, I was the only connection with real life. As I mentioned, they lived alone. I tried to have a little talk with them every time. After a while, they always wanted to touch me on my shoulder or arm for example. It was their gratitude, I guess. Talking with them personally was equally important for them — also for me — as doing their shopping.
After the second or third week, I learnt a lot about them, what they like, how I can ask about their needs. We got to trust each other. Shopping for them and talking to them personally was much more of a help than I thought before, and much more useful then the application would have been. But I was still wondering, I didn’t know why I was doing this volunteering at all.
I started to do a little introspection. Why did I want to help these people? If I wanted to save the world or the society, why would I want to do that?
I started to ask myself!
- Why do I want to help elderly people?
The answer was: In this pandemic situation they are more at risk than young people
- Would I like to help all of them or just some of them?
The answer was: One or two could be a good start. — It’s the MVP attitude.
- Can I help someone in my family?
The answer was: No, my grandparents passed.
- Why do I want to help strangers?
The answer was: 4 years ago my parents passed away as well. Having no family anymore, I wanted to fill that void with other people.
The real reason why I helped these people was that I had a need to care for my family, and since I don’t have them anymore, I replaced them with strangers.
This means that when I design a new thing, it reflects my personal needs as well. If I know my needs, I can better estimate another person’s needs and I won’t project my wishes on them.
There is a thought by Ram Dass, which is close to my heart: “I can do nothing for you, but work on myself… you can do nothing for me, but work on yourself!”, He was an American psychologist and author. His best-known book, Be Here Now.
This thought perfectly fits my experience, for example grocery shopping.
This recognition helped me understand my motivation, and how I react to surroundings.
It was not just a theory anymore, it was my personal experience. I tried to understand why I wanted to save people from the other part of the world, why I wanted to save the world. And now, I know to start locally and to start with myself is the key to be more successful. If all of us succeed with these more modest goals, the world will indeed become a better place.
To summarize my talk’s topic, start with something small: Start with yourself, start locally. Nevertheless, the world is not black and white.
Also, it is important to see globally, holistically, to see how systems work, this is the reason I work for GE Healthcare. It is the other perspective for me. Holistic thinking is sometimes just numbers in a sheet and I can’t really feel that I have an impact on the topic that I am working on. Representing a big company and bringing solutions to people far far away is not the same thing.
Have you ever wondered about your impact on your close environment?How does your personality or needs appear in your products?
Thank you for your attention.