I’ve written before about how I think about and talk about design. While in general I find it important to be specific about the practice you’re doing, there are some broader definitions that are useful.
One that occurred to me this morning: The first act of product design is deciding what effect you want to have in the world.
This definition sidesteps the distinction between solving problems and cultural impact, and focuses not on the product but on the opportunity.
We live in a fascinating time, where with new tools we have the power to build almost anything. Meanwhile, design practice is emerging in many disciplines and fields. The question is then less about “what should we build” and more about “why should we build?” Make sure you know your answer.
Couched in an article about procrastination is this fascinating study result:
Using fMRI, Hershfield and colleagues studied brain activity changes when people imagine their future and consider their present…their neural activity when they described themselves in a decade was similar to that when they described Matt Damon or Natalie Portman.
If our future selves are truly strangers to us, that affects how we design behavior change and plan for the future. We need to build empathy with ourselves the same ways we build it with others–through trying new experiences, challenging our beliefs, and cultivating curiosity about the unknown. This points to an experiential futures approach to design, as well as a need for individual, interactive tools for people to explore their own possible futures. And it suggests that successful approaches will address the emotional side of decisions as much or more than rational thoughts.
It’s an important aspect to consider when designing the future. After all, the next stranger you encounter could be…you!
We have science fiction, and science follows it. We imagine it, and it comes true. Yet we don’t have social fiction, so nothing changes. – Muhammad Yunus
A nice quote, and a good motivator, though I do think we have a couple types of social fiction.
If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse – Henry Ford (allegedly)
This quote has always bothered me. Not only is it dismissive of customer input, but I’ve seen it misused terribly by a wide range of people, who cite it as an excuse to ignore other people and design whatever they want. So it was with great delight that I found this marvelous debunking of the “quote” and the philosophy behind it.
Let me dispel with the suspense; it doesn’t appear that Henry Ford ever actually uttered this famous and polarizing phrase. We have no evidence that Ford ever said those words…
However, even if Ford didn’t verbalize his thoughts on customers’ ostensible inability to communicate their unmet needs for innovative products — history indicates that Henry Ford most certainly did think along those lines — his tone-deafness to customers’ needs (explicit or implicit), had a very costly and negative impact on the Ford Motor Company’s investors, employees, and customers.
“Never delegate understanding” – Charles Eames
“The muse visits during the act of creation, not before” – Roger Ebert
Some good guidance on which technique to use depending on what you want to say:
It’s been said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things. Science fiction the improbable made possible; fantasy the impossible made probable. – Rod Serling