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: http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered_desig.html.

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