Ever wonder how a good doctor is able to focus on the one or two possibilities even without the help of diagnostics? Now go try teaching hospital administrators the trick.
Good designers are just like good doctors.
They find great alternatives, not necessarily by processing information (codified) like a computer does, but by an invisible skill — Design Thinking. Malcolm Gladwell explains the phenomenon in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005) [I’m not saying I agree with everything in the book … but nevertheless].
The example of Kenna, a musician who is loved by critics for his eclectic style but fails to get a record deal because his music does not test well in marketing surveys, is instructive, as it illustrates how the “thin-slicing” of experts differs markedly from the mass market. Other examples in this chapter include the failure of “New Coke” in the 1980s, when Coca-Cola attempted to improve sales by making a version of Coke that tasted more like Pepsi because blind taste test results favored Pepsi, as well as an office chair that did not test well in marketing surveys but that turned out to be a best-seller. In this chapter, Gladwell highlights how expert thin-slicing is especially valuable and considerably more accurate in judging worth than the mass market or the novice, concluding that what turns out to be a successful product might be more accurately judged by the people who are experts in that field.
Design Thinking is not just a series of steps to carry out mindlessly. Forget the process and tools for a moment and focus on understanding the user first. While doing so, use every bit of your past experience and knowledge in designing products and services that have the potential to enrich end-user experience.
Trust your gut, don’t just hand over that part to Design Thinking or any other “tool”. Good luck!
We Designers are the ones with the wherewithal to understand the several connections between disciplines. It’s fair then that we ought to take the lead in making sure that products (and services) are designed responsibly. While Designers do have a responsibility towards justifying the fees they take from their clients, they have a much larger responsibility to the clients’ customers.
Design should be used to create the spark, not just to fight the fire.
The highest value comes from a designer’s work when products she designs can keep users delighted, safe and comfortable while simultaneously ensuring the planet is safe and well.
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The First Princi.pal is a story waiting to be told. Meandering through the life of Dr. PS Mani Sundaram, it captures anecdotes of mixed flavour to highlight the genius of one of independent India’s foremost institution builders. Princi gave Regional Engineering College, Trichy (now National Institute of Technology) the distinction of consistently featuring among the top 10 Engineering colleges for 50 years running. His was a professional career that had to beat the odds of functioning under India’s political and bureaucratic regimes of the 1960s and 70s. Not only did he measure up to the challenges, his astute administrative sense made sure he did so in style.
A charismatic leader—administrator par excellence, pragmatic visionary and academic entrepreneur—he upped the ante of India’s higher education. Besides driving the astounding success of REC, he laid a solid foundation for Bharathidasan University as its first Vice Chancellor. His foresight has seen it grow from strength to strength in the three decades of its existence. Today the Bharathidasan Institute of Management stands tall as one of India’s premier Business Schools, rubbing shoulders with the IIMs.
2014 marks the Golden Jubilee of REC Trichy’s founding and a fitting occasion for a tribute to the great man.
Now is the opportunity for designers to use the power of design, not just to improve lifestyles but also to practice design in a way that balances social and environmental interests.
From an excellent post by Brian Ling suggesting design freedom + designer responsibility. He makes a strong point with the following from Victor Papanek’s Design For The Real World —
There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second. Never before in history have grown men sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered file boxes, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people. Before (in the ‘good old days’), if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal-mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are taught carefully to young people.
In an age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer. It also demands greater understanding of the people by those who practise design and more insight into the design process by the public.
(This essay was first published on Egology – The Ideafarms Blog on December 12, 2013)
Last year, Amit Gulati, who runs Incubis Consultants, invited me to participate in an interactive session to think through design ideas for a low-cost washing machine. The workshop brought out some very interesting and fascinating ‘ways of seeing’ that completely overturned the engineering / tech / product way of approaching design problems. Did we need to redesign the washing machine (Product) under stricter constraints [this is the way most people think – start with an existing product, strip it of features, use cheaper materials and processes, reduce quality and make it low-cost], or did we need to go up a level and reframe the problem itself.
Image Courtesy: Incubis Consultants, 2013.
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In the old days — as recently as the dying years of the last century — technology was trying to keep up with our needs. But instead of playing catch up, its pace overtook our needs. In the end, technology, especially those products that were powered by the silicon chip, won the race. Today we have more technology than we need and yet, rather than using what already exists to solve societal problems, we still go after creating more and more technology for the narrowest part of the pyramid – the top. Continue reading “Becoming Rich by Designing for the Poor”