It’s Time To Redesign Design

Vimla Appadoo
Oct 18 · 5 min read

NUX (Northern User Experience) is definitely a thing and I was humbled enough to take the stage at their 8th conference in Manchester — NUX8.

Design is putting humans first, before technology

I took the stage to talk about the role that design is playing in the technology industry, and I wanted to leave the audience feeling inspired to take charge of their careers in design to redefine their roles as designers.

So, here’s a recap of what I spoke about and you can find my slides here.

[Side note]

I kicked off my talk doing a shout out to Black History Month. As a person of colour, and I think as the only person of colour speaking at NUX8, I wanted to shed a light on what the design community can do to support inclusivity in the industry.

My call out was to encourage the amazing audience in the auditorium to get out and support local Black History Month events. Doing so doesn’t just support other people, it doesn’t just show solidarity with different causes but it helps everyone know that design is an inclusive space.

If the industry doesn’t reflect the people we’re designing for, we’re never going to be able to design the right thing.

If you ask my parents…

It’s no secret that I love memes, so I took on a classic meme structure for my talk to unpick different interpretations of designs.

So, if you ask my parents what design is, they’re likely to tell you that it’s probably interior design. They’re likely to point at different furniture in the house and say “Well, that’s design isn’t it?” They’d probably say that design is a pretty drawing (or in my case a pretty naff sketch of a bird) and they’re likely to blur the line between art and design.

Ultimately, if you ask my parents, they’d have no idea what design really is. And it makes you think about whether any of us really know….

If you ask the industry…

Let’s flip the script to the people who pay, the people who have given us the job title of “Designer”.

They’d probably confuse UI with UX and don’t even get me started on how the industry defines Service Design. To me, it seems like the industry says that we are any job title that ends in a D (UX[D], UI[D], SD, GD, PD — 10 points to the people who guess all of these!)

Industries often see design as the end product, or the final result. They don’t see it as the process, research, infinite sketches and prototypes that get there. Design is so much more than what you see on your screen or in a frame. It’s a creative process that makes people happy, have positive and memorable experiences that work for everyone — the business and team alike.

What has become clear to me throughout my career, is that design is an after thought. Design is brought into the conversation once all the decisions have been made. Once the solution has been finalised and the business knows what it wants. Designers, come into the conversation too late, a small voice in the room trying to ask what the users need, not what the business wants.

This is changing, slowly but surely, but it’s clear that there’s a huge gap in what understanding the true implementation of design processes into a business.

If you ask me…

Design to me is so much more than the end product.

Design to me often looks like a sprawling mess. It’s post it notes on brown paper. It’s sharpies. It’s stickers. It’s uncertainty, unknowns, assumptions, hunches and it’s understanding.

Design is a process to a better understanding of what users needs. Design is facilitating a common understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve. Design is building a team, culture and working towards a vision that everyone understands and gets behind.

Design is so much more than what you see on a screen.

Design is making data driven decisions, for good

Data is important, there’s no two ways about it. Data tells us if what we’ve designed is working. Data helps us understand our users and helps us make the right decisions.

We need to build a balance of quantitative and qualitative data to tell the story. We need quotes from our users alongside the statistical data to tell us what’s going on.

We want to use all of our research — the stories and the numbers — to help us decide what to do next. And we always want to be deciding what we do next, to benefit the people we’re designing for. We want our decisions to have a positive impact and benefit society in some way or another .

Design is putting people first, before tech

Technology is evolving at an unprecedented speed — it’s like nothing we’ve seen before. As technology advances, it’s constraints, guidances and governance slips further and further out of reach.

We’re at a new point in history, where can finally slow down. It’s time to use the design tools we have to start putting people first. We have the depth of knowledge and insight, to prevent the next Cambridge Analytical scandal from happening. We know that we need to protect our users, their data and their peace of mind.

Design is the answer. We can finally take the time to understand what our users need and work with them to tailor technology to what they want to achieve and make sure we’re asking the right questions. Design is about making sure no one gets left behind. Design is making sure that the technology that we put out into the world helps more people than it hinders.

Design is problem solving, for people

When I started my career, I thought that design was problem solving. Full stop, period. That was it, nothing more and nothing less.

Then I realised, design is so much more than that. There’s no point of solving a problem that isn’t felt or isn’t a reality for someone, a person, a human.

Design is problem solving for people. It’s a process of unpicking the things that aren’t working for people or users, and building the right solutions for them. It’s our gift to the world, to build beautiful experiences for people that help make their lives better and that help them reach and fulfil their goals, needs and dreams.

Now what?

There’s such a big misunderstanding and misinterpretation of all of the benefits that design can bring to an organisation or team. As designers, we’ve been mislead by job descriptions, titles and the industry into roles where design has become about the end product and the final visualisation.

Design is so much more than that. It can transform the way we operation, redefine our cultures and reset the technology standard so that we’re building things that help people reach their outcomes.

My big challenge to all the designers out there is this:

How might we embed design at all levels of an organisation, so that we can design a future that we all need?

Because if we don’t, who will?

Vimla Appadoo

Written by

Lead Service Designer at DigitalBridge | Previously FutureGov | Co-Founder of SheSaysMCR | Rising Star | Young Digital Leader | Top 50 Future Leader | Keynoter|

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