Inspired by a talk on human-centered design 15 years ago

By chance, I watched this video on the train to work one morning. I forgot what I was searching for, but I feel really thankful to bump into this.

In the beginning, I was complaining about the low resolution of this video. But in no time, I was attracted by David’s whole body language. He was in a very relaxing sitting position because the audience were industry insiders and the atmosphere was intimate. On the contrary, recent TED talks are attracting a broader audience. The speakers are standing in the spotlight, with all the details of appearance well combed. They have strong intention to be smart and tell the world something huge.

David Kelly simply showed case by case of IDEO’s new works, very practically. Interestingly, he played one video after another, instead of showing static screenshots or product photos.

Static screens? Only with that and maybe combined with your narratives, there is little chance to get people excited about your design or ideas.

David’s team already realized this issue 15 years ago and pioneered in builting internal video-producing teams to create “experience prototypes to show the man-machine relationship.”

It resonates with me a lot. When working in the design agency, you face clients with different level knowledge about design and user experience. How to convey ideas to them and turn them into the evangelizer to their colleagues?

Here are some examples he mentioned in the talk.

E-Magazine design 15 years ago

The first product catching my attention was what he called “Zinio Reader.” It was designed to “make magazines even more enjoyable to read.” After seeing this design, I checked the talk’s date. 2002, okay! 15 years ago! Wow!

Zinio Reader

The demo was already showing the right vision. Till today, designers, product managers, and businesspeople are trying to solving the same question and having very similar prototypes. It is clear that the interface design itself is not enough. Put it in another way, the design was fun and pioneering, but so what?

There is a long journey before users arrive at this reading interface. Before the behavior of scrolling E-magazine pages, there are motivation and ability issues to be solved. For example, when I take the train every morning, the news reading service competes with book reading, video watching, sending msgs, working on the train, talking with people, or only looking outside of the window. My motivation will help decide what service I want and if it is rewarding to me. For example, is it the content informative and relative that I can use for work or chat over lunch with my colleagues? Does the device make me look good to the others on the train?

Or concerning to abilities, is the device heavy to carry so I would prefer just grab the free newspaper right on my train desk to read? How much does the device cost? What else can I do with the device? Even does the battery work long enough?

We as designers should all think about these questions. Instead of investing time and coming up with similar interface ideas, move your focus to the long journey ahead of the interface.

The Prada store in NY

It was just amazing to see how the ideas 15 years ago looked like. They are not out of date, still fresh and exciting. Scannable RF tags, the wall for the changing room, magic mirror with a three-second delay so the customer can see how it looks from the back.

Changing room experience

Design the ultimate cubicle

“So far it’s chaos, but a lot of people are doing stuff, so that’s good. We’ll see what happens.” I like this saying from the clip.

The trial and error appear to be chaotic, while the core concept is very clear, the goal to “make the cubicle more human.” Outcomes were: a smart flower with emotion and love that wilt when you leave and come up when you are back; the walls are screens for family photos; a hammock for your afternoon nap; a built-in fish tank.

“Life would be sweet in a cubicle like this.” That is truly the ultimate goal as a person.

Cubicle demo

Design with social responsibility

In the end, he mentioned a project called ApproTEC. It started by one of David’s student, a Ph.D. from Stanford. Taking some design from the US and let people in Kenya start their own business and manufacture products. For example, the designers in the US (like the students from Stanford doing it for free)help design deep-well, low-cost manual pump.

I heard about quite a few social enterprises. For example, Jane Chen’s story on designing the product called “embrace” to save millions of premature babies. But I didn’t know these initiatives have such a long tradition.

David himself has a fantastic combination of identities, a professor active in the academics, founder of “IDEO” which is a successful consulting business, at the same time, contributing to social welfare.

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