Last month, I started my Master’s degree in Global Design at ALBA.

I know the title doesn’t reveal much, so to keep it short: The two-year program takes a holistic approach to design as a creative problem-solving tool.

It is challenging to explain the program because we are mostly exposed to specific design disciplines, such as architecture, product design, interior design, and graphic design. But today, worldwide, designers are playing a critical role in big businesses and organizations. Designers are included from the start in designing new technologies. New design disciplines have emerged: service design, experience design, strategic design, etc. These disciplines have been growing and are much needed today at an international scale; however, they are not widely known among the majority of people including design practitioners.

Back in architecture school, and since I founded Architects for Change, I have realized that I was interested in the process of designing rather than the final design itself. My passion grew; I started to understand the design process more, how to look at challenges, how to make sense of my observations, how to make use of collective intelligence, how to connect ideas together, and how to generate ideas.

As designers and architects, we have the tendency to assume what people need. We tend to jump into conclusions and project them into our big, great, and unique ideas. We are known to be creative, and we don’t miss the chance to prove that our solutions are the greatest ones ever made. But the fact that we design for people puts our designs at risk — the risk of failure. Only the end users can prove if our solutions succeed or fail.

That’s why the design process puts the user at the center, starting with empathy. Empathy is a foundation for a human-centered design process. Empathizing with the people we are designing for helps us start with a beginner’s mind — a fresh mind. Empathy allows the designer to interact with real people to understand their needs, desires, and aspirations. It helps the designer define the real problem and drift away from his/her assumptions and uncover insights driven from real human experiences.

Design becomes more about people and less about the designer. Design becomes more about possibilities and less about the great big idea of the designer.

During one of our Design Theory classes last week with our instructor Doreen Toutikian, we discussed an idea:

“What if design and architecture schools require an empathy test for students for admission?”