I’ve always been passionate about design, because it possesses a subtle but significant influence on our behavior Since my senior year of high-school, I’ve explored examples of products and systems that were designed directly for the people using them. Think about Slack, with all the systems catered towards boosting a professional’s workflow. Or a well designed website that’s a pleasure to read and delights the user with a combination of animation, color scheme, and layout. The difference between these things and other well made products is that they are designed with humans in mind instead of a market. This means that the people these products were designed for were placed at the “center” of the design process. They provided frequent feedback and let their doubts and the usability issues of the product known early and often in the design process, and the result was perfectly crafted for their needs.
Human Centered Design (and the lack of it) manifests itself everyday in our lives. Furniture, architecture, consumer electronics, and anything else you use frequently can be an instance of either great or horrible human centered design. What’s awesome is you can easily judge the quality of the design, just by using it! If it’s hard to use (think those TV remotes with 50 buttons), then the design is bad. If it’s easy to use (like a smart TV remote with only 5 buttons and simple instructions), then that product was probably designed with human centered design principles!
So, why has human centered design become one of those words that you hear at TED talks and innovation conferences across the world? I believe it’s because some have realized a lack of Human Centered Design in product and system development can have dire consequences. Think about General Motors’ systematic dismantling of the trolley system in the early-mid 1900s. This move was centered on the profits of the company, not the people in the city that needed transportation from place to place. The consequences of replacing trolleys with private transportation infrastructure haunt us to this day. People in major urban centers are less happy and healthy because they have to make a commute along a crowded highway with other angry, stressed drivers. This in large part due to profit-centered design in the development of America’s transportation system.
The phenomenon of human centered design is beginning to revolutionize the way companies make products. It gives me much to derive optimism from in this time of unsteadiness and political chaos. I believe that a focus on basic human needs in product design will give way to more resilient and friendly cities, healthy and fresh food at a reasonable price, and products that are intuitive to use and actually address the inconveniences in one’s life instead of siphoning their time.
The methods to implement human centered design are very involved and flexible in nature, with a focus on rapid iteration based on feedback from users and market research. In my next article, I will discuss the characteristics involved with the process of human-centered design and how to implement them in your company or personal workflow. Until next time! :)