Human-Centered Design Is Broken. Here’s a Better Alternative.
Hear me out for a second: What if we tried bee-centered design?
Late last year, I wrote a piece titled “Design Won’t Save the World.” It focused on the limits of human-centered design and its failure to impact the big problems we face. The morning the piece was published, my wife sat in our living room reading through it. When she finished she said, “we need bee-centered design.” Since that moment I’ve been thinking about what that would mean.
Wikipedia defines human-centered design (HCD) as “a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process.”
Hasn’t our entire existence been about involving the human perspective in all steps of the process? I mean, at one point we literally believed that we were the center of the universe. Empirically we’ve figured out that we’re not the center of everything but practically, we pretty much still carry on as if we are. We are very aware of the vast and powerful interplay between the parts and pieces that surround us, but we continue to see the world as one big show unfolding in service to us. When you get right down to it, human-centered design is just an extension of this belief in both name and execution.
Humans have a lot of problems that need solving — and we should try to solve those problems. But humans don’t exist in isolation; we are but one very small piece in a very large puzzle. While centering the human perspective can help foster more humane design outcomes, it also perpetuates myopic navel-gazing.
By centering on the human perspective, we also center our narrow definition of success.
When we observe a problem that impacts people, our process dictates that we solve it. Very often, these solutions are developed in isolation, exclusively from the human perspective. This creates a solutions-at-all costs mentality in which we often ignore any risk of broader impacts, rarely asking ourselves if the problem should even be solved in the first place. This inward-looking approach leads to a lot of human-centered solutions — but it also leads to a lot of…