Design is … (Part 1)

I took a Design Thinking course a few years ago as part of an Interaction Design Masters and it certainly resonated with me as I carried the “process” with me through a series of design studio courses. Over the last year of my Masters I moved through a thesis project adopting a human centred design approach as I took an initial step into exploring people’s concerns of living with Internet of Things technology. Most recently I embarked on a PhD and, at the same time, started tutoring Design Thinking in that same course.

Each of these steps deepens my understanding of human centred design but it wasn’t until I started tutoring that I think I really “got” the importance of human centred design. I know that I am still learning.

To some extent I’ve become a bit of an evangelist, on a mission to help students and people to understand the real benefits that come from human centred design. Largely this is driven by two key frustrations: people, especially those learning design, thinking that design is solely “making things look pretty”; and, a lack of understanding by some software engineers of the need to truly engage with the people who are their “end users”.

As part of the Design Thinking course, the co-ordinator posted a link to a series of case studies about Design Thinking for Museums. These case studies are great. They help to explain some of the key values underlying human centred design.

Becoming human through human-centered design: reflections from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center helped expand my understanding of empathy, and not just in relation to design.

Empathy is not just walking in someone else’s shoes, it’s as my mentor John Pepper says, “seeing myself in that person and that person in myself.”

I think that true empathy is often missed in a software design process. We listen to people explain what they want and we massage this into a series of system or functional requirements. But if we want to design a system that is truly engaging and that meets the needs of people we need to understand why people want both the system and the specific functionality — what drives this requirement from a human level.

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