Human Centered Design
On January 9th, 2007 in San Fransisco California, Steve Jobs, an early proponent of design thinking, walked onto the stage at the Macworld Convention and showed the world the very first iPhone. It was, to say the very least, revolutionary technology. What no one anticipated was that it would actually change human society on a fundamental level. Before the iPhone, cell phones were just that, a cellular phone. They did the job of a home telephone, as well as limited text messaging and the occasional game of Snake.
What Jobs had produced was a phone, with a full touch screen keyboard, and a camera, as well as a web browser, and a built in media player. Everything you needed to navigate your personal brand through the incoming social media revolution in one pocket sized device. Apple was able to solve so many issues with one device by using human centered design, or what’s become known as design thinking. A new way of solving the issues of consumers or clients by taking a first principles, beginners mindset to solving a problem. So whats so important about this approach? By using the phases of design thinking we ensure that our end product is focused around the user experience first. This gives our design an authentic and exciting UX and creates an environment for our clients to show their customers that they have thought about the entire process and have their customers best interest in mind from tip to tail. Let me explain the theory of design thinking a little more.
Design Thinking Theory
Design thinking is a philosophy on how to approach a task or problem using a series of mental exercises and real world practices to draw the most effective questions and conclusions to a given problem. Here at Nighthouse we view design, wether it is for the iPhone or a logo or website, as solving a problem. You have a lackluster online presence or you need to rebrand to draw attention to your business, we use a human centered design process to work through what the best solutions are to those problems and then we design and test around those solutions. While this way of approaching design isn’t very new, its beginning to really catch on in the last few years. I have a theory of why that is, but first we need to explain design thinking a little more.
The 5 Steps of Design Thinking
The first step is to research, understand and empathize with the users that will be experiencing the design you will implement. Try to observe and engage with their current experiences and communicate with them about their concerns surrounding the problem at hand. In our case this is usually something like the ease of use for web design or the functionality of a logo or word mark. Empathy is the most important step in a human centered design process because empathy allows designers to set aside their own assumptions about the world and look at the problem from a first principles, beginners mindset.
Analyze all of your understanding from the empathize phase of the process and write it out in a well defined list called a problem statement. Some people call these pain points, some call them usability issues, its all relatively the same. An issue with how someone is currently experiencing something that we need to fix. The define stage is where the real problems will come to the surface and we can reveal exactly what problems we need to solve and how to design around those problems with our solutions. The problem statement gives us a road map for what we need to think our way out of in the next step, Ideate.
This is the best part of the process for designers and if phases 1 and 2 were done thoughtfully and thoroughly then the Ideate phase is where we can really shine. In the 3rd phase we will generate all of our creative solutions to the problems we now have well defined in the problem statement. Because we have begun this process with the end user first and thought about it through their experience, we can approach the design in an “out of the box” way that most experts miss. As they say in the Japanese zen concept of Shoshin, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” In the Ideate phase we will create a broad landscape of solutions and continue to hone and whittle them down into a focused concept. This concept comes to life in the next phase, Prototype.
In the 4th step, we design out all the solutions and concepts we have come to in the Ideate phase. This is where everything starts to take tangible shape and we can begin to pass the designs back and forth internally. With the solutions we came to in the ideate phase implemented in the prototype we can either accept it as the correct design or reject it to be reimagined, reformed and then re-examined. Once we have a prototype that excels at implementing the solutions we came to in phase 3, for the problems we diagnosed in phase 2, in a design that is 100% focused around our empathy for our end user that we pinpointed in phase 1, we are ready for the final phase! Testing.
If you have a solid foundation from phase 1, Testing can be a reaffirming process and a source of pride in your ability to apply a creative and new solution to the problem at hand. That being said, testing can also be a tedious phase of the design process because sometimes you follow it back to one of the first 3 phases. Once at the testing phase, we stress test the design in every way possible among as many end users as possible to assure that there aren’t any further tweaks that can be made. After testing is complete the design is ready to meet the loving eyes of its real life end users! Reactions of aw and marvel ensue, and everyone says, “Wow how did you come up with this it looks great!” Or, “I love this its so fun!” All in a days work folks, all in a days work.
Great Design Communicates Intuitively
If a design is good enough, people will overlook most aspects of an otherwise inferior design just because the experience is so end user focused. This is what we can lose sight of when we approach design from an experts mindset. We look at the details, making a product for experts rather than the people that will actually be using it.
In the case of the iPhone, the end user experience was so incredible that people overlooked the fact that you can barely customize anything about it. They overlooked the terrible battery life, the incredible cost, the proprietary charging cable, so many aspects that would have tanked a different phone. But that user experience when you pull the phone out of the box and it turns on automatically though! Is it a big deal? No not really its very easy to push a power button and turn the phone on. But, they thought of that end user, empathized with them and the fact that they would definitely have a “wowww….” moment from that initial experience and implemented it. Incredible.
The Coming Decade
My final point on the importance of human centered design has to do with the time we live in now. The 20’s are going to be a rebuttal of the 10’s in the way that I think we will see a huge rise in the value and appreciation of authenticity. We are seeing it already from content creators. Where over the previous decade content creators were curating an online image of life as one long, mimosa fueled beach party. Now we are seeing an influx of how-to blogs and vlogs.
A massive shift in the online creative world has come from the bestseller Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon. In the book he describes the value that we get from seeing someone else’s journey as they’re learning a new craft or skill. In this new era of authenticity, expertise will still be very important in implementing the solutions to problems, but we will need to keep the first principles approach using a beginners mindset at the same level of importance.
Everything we put out to the world is to communicate to others what we feel, think, and believe. If we allow ourselves to be misunderstood in a world of design we are selling ourselves very short. Ensuring that you have taken every step to make sure that the people you are trying to communicate with not only understand you, but enjoy what you’re doing and saying to the point that they want to be associated with you and your brand is the destination we as businesses all strive for. Human centered design is the new ticket to get there.