Some years ago, people in different locations used to communicate by phone. That’s nothing unusual since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone around the year 1875. For more than 140 years since then, 2 people easily communicate verbally by phone. And that’s still OK when we talk about general or personal topics. But what about talking business or very important technical details for a project involving a lot of high technology, when usually the information must be heard and even seen by a team of participants in different locations in different countries? Can we easily communicate our message and ideas just using the classical phone? Of course we cannot. We need a better way to share our ideas and insights. We need a better interface. We actually need a new product of better communication.
Like in many other fields, new products that can improve the User Experience for which they are created. Today we can communicate very easily not only audio but also video. We can share everything in real time, doesn’t matter how many participants are involved or where they are located. This was only possible due to intensive work of UI/UX Design Engineers which are becoming more and more in high demand. The UI/UX Designers are helping people to create new products that can improve life and work. These engineers are design thinkers.
For design thinkers, however, behaviors are never right or wrong, they are always meaningful. Just simply saying that the job of a designer is: “converting need into demand” by putting people first. This is exactly what a designer does. On the face of it, this sound so: just figure out what people want and then give it to them. But if it’s so easy , why don’t we see more success stories like the iPod? The Prius? MTV and Amazon?
The answer is that we need to return human beings to the center of the story. We need to learn to put people first. There is lot of written material out there about “human-centered design” and its importance to innovation. But since there are few truly compelling stories, it’s good to ask WHY is it so difficult to spot a need and design a response. The basic problem is that people are so ingenious at adapting to inconvenient situations that they are often not even aware that they are doing so: they sit on their seat belts, write their PINs on their hands, hang their jackets on doorknobs and chain their bicycles to park benches.
Henry Ford understood this very well when he remarked “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse’”. This is WHY traditional techniques such as focus groups and surveys, which in most cases simply ask people what they want, rarely yield important insights. The tools of conventional market research can be useful in pointing toward incremental improvements, but they will never lead to those rule-breaking , game-changing, paradigm-shifting breakthroughs that leave us scratching our heads and wondering why nobody ever thought of them before. Our real goal as design thinkers, then is not so much fulfilling manifest needs by creating a speedier printer or a more ergonomic keyboard; that’s the job of classical designers. Our goal as design thinkers instead is helping people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have, and this is the challenge of design thinkers.
How should we approach it? What tools do we have that can lead us from modest incremental changes to the leaps of insight that will redraw the map? There are actually 3 mutually reinforcing elements of any successful design program. These are: INSIGHT, OBSERVATION and EMPATHY.
INSIGHT = Learning from the lives of others
Insight is one of the sources of design thinking and it does not usually come from reams of quantitative data that measure exactly what we already have and tell us what we already know. A better starting point is to go out into the world and observe the actual experiences of for example commuters, bikers or registered nurses as they improvise their way through their daily lives. Just observe simple things such as: the shopkeeper who uses a hammer as a doorstop; the office worker who sticks identifying labels onto the jungle of computer cables under his desk. Rarely will the everyday people who are the consumers of our products, the customers of our services, the occupants of our buildings or the users of our digital interfaces be able to tell us what to do.
Their actual behavior, however can provide us with invaluable clues about their range of unmet needs. The creative process generates ideas and concepts that have not existed before. These are more likely to be triggered by observing the odd practices of an amateur carpenter or the incongruous detail in a mechanic’s shop, than by hiring expert consultants or asking “statistically average” people to respond to a survey or fill out a questionnaire.
The insight phase that helps to launch a project is therefore every bit as critical as the engineering that comes later, an we must take it from where we can find it. The evolution from design to design thinking is the story of the evolution from the creation of products to the analysis of the relationship between people and products, and from there to the relationship between people and people.
OBSERVATION = Watching what people don’t do, listening to what they don’t say.
Walk into the offices of any of the world’s leading design consultancies, and the first question is likely to be “Where is everybody?” Of course, many hours are spent in the model shop, in project rooms, and peering into computer monitors, but many more hours are spent out in the field with the people who will ultimately benefit from our work. Although grocery store shoppers, office workers, and schoolchildren are not the ones who will write us a check at the end of a project, they are our ultimate clients.
The only way we can get to know them is to seek them out where they live, work, and play. Accordingly, almost every project we undertake involves an intensive period of observation. We watch what people do (and do not do) and listen to what they say (and do not say). This takes some practice. There is nothing simple about determining whom to observe, what research techniques to employ, how to draw useful inferences from the information gathered, or when to begin the process of synthesis that begins to point us toward a solution. Observation relies on quality, not quantity.
The decisions one makes can dramatically affect the results one gets. It makes sense for a company to familiarize itself with the buying habits of people who inhabit the center of its current market, for they are the ones who will verify that an idea is valid on a large scale-a fall outfit for Barbie, for instance, or next year’s feature on last year’s car. By concentrating solely on the bulge at the center of the bell curve, however, we are more likely to confirm what we already know than learn something new and surprising. For insights at that level we need to head for the edges, the places where we expect to find “extreme” users who live differently, think differently, and consume differently-collector who owns 1,400 Barbies, for instance, or a professional car thief.
EMPATHY = Standing in the shoes (or lying on the gurneys) of others.
It’s possible to spend days, weeks, or months conducting research of this sort, but at the end of it all we will have little more than stacks of field notes, videotapes, and photographs unless we can connect with the people we are observing at a fundamental level. We call this “empathy,” and it is perhaps the most important distinction between academic thinking and design thinking.
We are not trying to generate new knowledge, test a theory, or validate a scientific hypothesis-that’s the work of our university colleagues and an indispensable part of our shared intellectual landscape. The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives. Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations. If we are to “borrow” the lives of other people to inspire new ideas, we need to begin by recognizing that their seemingly inexplicable behaviors represent different strategies for coping with the confusing, complex, and contradictory world in which they live.
The computer mouse developed at Xerox PARC in the 1970s was an intricate technical apparatus invented by engineers and intended for engineers. To them it made perfect sense that it should be taken apart and cleaned at the end of the day. But when the fledgling Apple Computer asked us to help it create a computer “for the rest of us,” we gained our first lesson in the value of empathy.
A designer, no less than an engineer or marketing executive, who simply generalizes from his own standards and expectations will limit the field of opportunity. A thirty-year-old man does not have the same life experiences as a sixty-year-old woman. An affluent Californian has little in common with a tenant farmer living on the outskirts of Nairobi. A talented, conscientious industrial designer, settling down at her desk after an invigorating ride on her mountain bike, may be ill prepared to design a simple kitchen gadget for her grandmother who is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. But even empathy for the individual, as it turns out, is not sufficient. To the extent that designers have one at all, their prevailing concept of “markets” remains the aggregate of many individuals. It rarely extends to how groups interact with one another. Design thinkers have upped the ante, beginning with the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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