Human Centered Design

Q: The language of the Introduction (Desirability Lens, Value Chain) seems to be geared for a different audience than the language of the toolkit (develop deep empathy, question assumptions). Many of the methods described in the toolkit seem to be based on solid design thinking, but do you see negative ramifications or disconnects in this Human Centered Design approach?

The language of the two documents really is very interesting, and can be traced back to the history of IDEO: it is a design firm and innovation consultancy. The toolkit is an appealing document for designers, like the observation above notes, it seems to be focused on solid design thinking. The introduction on the other hand speaks more in the language of NGO’s (“entering a new region”, “understanding the needs of the constituents”, “new methods for monitoring and evaluation”, etc.), the organizations that are traditionally IDEO’s clients. That a company like IDEO is focused on Human Centered Design makes sense for this reason, it is good way to engage in a design and innovation process, but is also a good way to have control: there are steps to take, people to talk to, observations to make – an appealing process for clients of a design consultancy firm.

An important aspect of Human Centered Design is “that technology should adapt to people”. There are examples of excellent products however, that have not been created through the process of Human Centered Design and where people adapted to the technology, for example automobiles, kitchen utensils, watches, etc. The design approach for these products can be called ‘Activity Centered Design’, but I’m not sure that is a widely accepted term. An important thing to note here is that the design of these products has very much evolved over time, which makes the process far less appealing for both consultancy firms and their clients. Either approach is fine by the way, I am as much a fan of HCD as the next designer, but it certainly is interesting to discuss why Human Centered Design is the popular choice.

* These arguments have been influenced by the article “Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful” by Don Norman, it can be found here:

Reading Response – “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration”

Thomson et all argue in “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration” that  from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, the meaning of collaboration has to be better defined in order to measure and, with this data, better implement collaboration. Pages 23 through 28 specifically provide a review of the theory on collaboration, categorized by the authors in 5 key dimensions of collaboration which seem very much interconnected. I personally interpret these dimensions as a possible checklist for successful collaboration. In my own words, these are the requirements for successful collaboration within the 5 dimensions:

To govern means “to conduct policy, actions and affairs”. Much like within any organization, governance within collaboration is important because without a transparent framework of rules (the policy), the participants will become uncertain on how to operate within the collaboration. Like any other part of the collaboration, the management of these rules should be a shared responsibility.

Even with great guidelines on how to operate within a collaboration, the collaboration can be unsuccessful without proper administration of these policies and actions. The administrative structure of a collaboration is decentralized because of the autonomous nature of a collaboration (see ‘Organizational Autonomy’) and because of that, it might be even more important that these structures are set up correctly and with agreement of all parties.

Organizational Autonomy
In any collaboration there is a conflict of identity and interest. Partners in a collaboration will need to juggle between their own identity, thriving to meet personal goals, and that of the collaboration, achieving the collaboration goals while maintaining accountability to their partners. This creates a very dynamic partnership (and holds, according to Innes, potential for creativity) but can lead to frustrations in the collaboration. The interest of the individual can never conflict with the goals of the collaboration.

Because of the autonomous nature of a collaboration (the tension between personal and joined goals), mutual beneficial interdependencies are very important for the success of a collaboration: it is the drive of the collaboration. These dependencies can happen in two different ways: either because one partner has unique resources the other party can benefit from or because of shared interests, for example missions, target audiences or culture. Is one of these reasons for collaboration better than the other?

Trust is a central component of collaboration. Even if all parties are able to keep both its personal and the joined goals in mind and the collaboration is build on solid interdependencies, the partners of the collaboration still have to trust that the other party has been truthful in providing information and will follow through on its promises. Trust can exist for short-term collaborations as well long-term ones, but it will be build on the reputation of the parties.

Although the article gives excellent insight in the theory behind the 5 key dimensions, I’m interested in the evidence of these 5 dimension in practice. Please give an example of a collaboration that was unsuccessful because of the wrong implementation of one of the 5 dimensions. Do you think that certain collaboration might not need all 5 dimensions to be successful, or do you think a certain dimension is more important than the others?