“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize, and glean insights that enable him or her to ‘make the invisible visible.’ — Hillman Curtis
The term “human-centered design” is a little bit misleading. If you have a surface level understanding of human-centered design, you know it is about designing with humans in mind. If you were to draw the concept of human-centered design, the visual might be a person in the middle of a circle with design concepts and processes branching out or cycling around that person. But that’s not really what human-centered design is all about. A more accurate visual would two people with a product in the middle. One person would be the user, and one person would be the designer. With the first visual, you might expect the designer to orbit the user and the product, but the ethos of human-centered design actually has inherent in it a lot more interaction between the user and the designer.
Consider IDEO’s description of human-centered design below.
“It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.
Human-centered design consists of three phases. In the Inspiration Phase you’ll learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs. In the Ideation Phase you’ll make sense of what you learned, identify opportunities for design, and prototype possible solutions. And in the Implementation Phase you’ll bring your solution to life, and eventually, to market. And you’ll know that your solution will be a success because you’ve kept the very people you’re looking to serve at the heart of the process.” — IDEO.org
Designs today are largely about who the user is, but they are also an expression of the humanity of the designer. Behind every great design, there is a human seeking to understand another human.
“The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.” — Charles Eames
Designers today have a unique ability to influence society. Whether it is the apps on our phones or the buildings in our cities, designers are deciding in many ways how humans will interact with the world and each other. In some ways, designers have more influence over society than most professions. Furthermore, those that have been initiated into the world of design have a greater capacity to problem solve in non-design professions. As a society, we would benefit from empowering designers and design educators.
“Design is the first signal of human intention.” — William McDonough
Given the scale of our society’s various problem sets, it seems more important than ever that we design the things and systems of our world very intentionally. Designers have the ability to influence how people move through a city or make buying decisions or learn new concepts, and the list goes on. Designers have the ability to make objects and systems didactic. We can learn from everything that is designed well. As we move forward as a society, we must remember that behind every great product and system, there is a human designer that made intentional and thoughtful design decisions.
“It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.” — Don Norman