Design is about people. As designers, the responsibility is to create something that makes things better for people. If you really want to do that well, you need to understand people.
It’s obvious right? Yet, we’re ignoring one of the greatest toolboxes to help us do that: social sciences and the humanities. The qualitative sciences that help us understand the fuzzy side of humans. Sure, neuroscience, physiology and the like will give you scientific answers but we all don’t have research labs at our disposal. The social sciences, like anthropology and sociology, provide pretty “low budget” methods and theories to at least give us a start in the right direction.
One thing I keep hearing over and over and, I’ll admit, find myself saying over and over is design thinking. That thing that everyone wants now and firms everywhere are clamoring to do. So, let’s break it down. You take the way designers approach a problem and apply it to places outside design. Designers start with a problem that is centered around people. This design thinking thing is typically applied to an organization itself, which is made of, guess what? People. Businesses serve people.
Symbolic interactionism dictates that we humans understand and construct the world around us by placing or imbuing meaning onto the things around us. Be it our house, our friends, a strange bobble head your brother gave you and even you iPhone. Each interaction requires interpretation and understanding that ultimately leads to meaning of some kind.
This is precisely why we need to start looking more at the social sciences for cues of understanding as we move forward into a product-centric future. Whether that product is smartphone, an activity tracker on your wrist, or a bionic arm, these things will all have a role to play in our cultural context and; therefore, a role in the individuals understanding of self in that context.
The creation of meaning is a subjective process that will change from person to person. This is not something that can necessarily be controlled or predicted by the makers. However, by considering the roles these products and services will play, a deeper understanding of the context of said product within the socio-cultural context can contribute to the future success (or failure) of a product.
I love this idea because it directly connect 3 very important ideas: utility, social context and individual motivations that fuel products as well as the marketing process and thinking.
Believe it or not, marketing and design are far more related (and should be) than either side would like to believe.
This month is all about design management, strategic design and finding new ways to do it better.
First written in 2003, before the “design thinking” buzz so much less buzzy and more about bringing theoretical pieces of design into practical applications.
As a former anthropology major and current nerd on all things anthropological, this compilation of essays on the various ways that anthropological methods can inform and improve design is fascinating.
More buzzy than the others, but written in a more engaging way. Interesting to think about simplicity and perhaps practicality when it comes to design.
Design may never be a science, but that is not to say that it cannot partner seamlessly with science, especially social science.
The study and understanding of social ties, in small to large social groups and even on the macro culture level, has always been fascinating to me. Do you approach the study of it from the perspective of the individual cost-benefit of the social ties? Or the collective group dynamics and benefits?
Christakis looks a little bit more granular and explores the actual ties or node between them and what are the motivations for each of those ties. What does those ties say about the collective? But more interestingly, how conditions can be manipulated to change those connections.
We are inherently social beings; we need others to feel good, but understanding the emotions and motivations behind that need will not only have immense implications for business (hello, now i can sell you more stuff), but also better treatment of social anxiety disorders, etc.
People blame the internet and technology for a lot of things, like social isolation, which have clearly been around for a long time. As humans, most of our problems and most of our needs haven’t really changed that much over time.
The second thing to do is to focus on these core problems, needs and desires, not technology. There is no point in innovating simply to do something new. The whole idea is to create value – if we don’t do that, we’re not innovating."
Just as user-centered design transformed technology in the 1990s and early 2000s, cultural fluency needs to transform it today: user experience (UX) design that’s familiar enough with a user’s cultural background to meet him or her halfway.
Cultural fluency demands abandoning the idea that functionality is a universal language, and that “good UX” is culturally agnostic. […]
It requires tremendous discipline to overcome the cultural biases of American design and engineering, to avoid teams building their own cultural norms into how the systems facilitate human interactions. Cultural fluency will require another expansion in design, one that incorporates anthropological, psychological, and historical insights in addition to everything that’s come before. And it will require understanding the broader impact on culture and society when devices begin making decisions and transacting on their own, as promised by the Internet of Things."
The idea of cultural fluency is very interesting and very important. More and more digitally-based and mediated experiences don’t simply remain in the cultural context they are designed for; they move go everywhere. These products and experience are also making more of an impact than we have given them credit for. Previously, experiences were designed for a set of users, to meet a specific need, but there was not a tremendous amount of thought around what the impact of that product would be beyond the the intended use.
Culture and context permeate everything and it is dangerous and perhaps a bit naive to ignore it much longer when it comes to designing experiences.