There were several talks at Interaction 10 that really stood out to me. These talks spoke to me and began to change the views that I have on my profession as well as the views I have on the goals behind what we do as UX Designers. One such talk was the keynote speech from Ezio Manzini, Politecnico di Milano, DIS-Indaco/DESIS Network, on Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability. Before I began to write this morning, I took a moment to sit down and reflect on why and how this talk affected me so much.
I should note that there were many great points that Ezio touched on during his keynote that I won’t mention here. I simply wanted to talk about the ones that touched me the most. First, Ezio talked about designing for what’s “next”. Instead of thinking about and designing for what may be happening 5 years from now, his team thinks about designing for tomorrow. This is especially relevant when talking about social networks and sustainability, but I couldn’t help but reflect on bringing this into web practices. I’m usually hoping to get work on building the next great innovation or idea. This rarely happens. I also spend a lot of time trying to figure out the “end state” or “strategy” in order to design for a current project. However, after listening to Ezio, I realized that I don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about what’s next. Trust me, I’m a huge evangelist for strategy, but do we really ever see these strategies become reality? Perhaps having the strategy become reality was never the intention, and the strategy really is a compass that we can design for. I’m not sure about anyone else, but this was a mind shift for me. From here on out I’m going to be much more aware that the strategy or end state will 99% of the time never be fulfilled. Instead, I’m going to try to think about how I can design for the next state instead of the end state.
Second, Ezio mentioned that his goal was to design for two things: 1) Needs to be satisfied and 2) Capabilities to be enhanced. This blew me away! Designing for needs to be satisfied really means looking at what people need and designing to it. It doesn’t mean looking at the product/service you’ve been tasked to build then doing user research to see how people will use it or how they use similar things today, but it means first looking at and discover peoples‘ needs, what gaps they have, then creating and designing a product and service around those needs. Designing for capabilities to be enhanced means looking at capabilities that people already have (a good example is renting movies in a store) then thinking about how to enhance those capabilities (renting online with netflix). One can easily see how both of these ideas center around designing for what’s next. Ezio isn’t talking about thinking how people will communicate 10 years from now then designing a brand new product that may or may not work depending on user acceptance and behavior. He’s not talking about coming up with the next huge innovation or idea. He’s talking about looking at what the needs are today, what the capabilities are today, and filling and enhancing these for tomorrow. And tomorrow means literally tomorrow, not sometime in the distant future. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the future thinking work and development is very important, but I believe that we focus way to much on that in our field. That is the fun stuff after all. That is what makes us excited and makes us feel creative and innovative. But think about designing something that makes it easier for people to do what they already do. It might not be the most innovative thing, but it is definitely creative work.
Lastly, Ezio talked about designing enabling systems. Systems that enable people to do the things they can’t today or enable people to do things that they already do today better tomorrow.
I think that this talk effected me so much because of the simplicity of it. This message is one that we’ve heard a great deal, and I’m sure that some of us are already going by it in our day to day work. But, are we really embracing it as we do the newest, coolest technologies? Are we really thinking about these items each and every time we design and ensuring that we aren’t just designing for design’s sake? I know that I haven’t been. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe that’s why these ideas touched me so much. But I have a feeling I’m not alone. Next time you are designing, I challenge you to think about what Ezio is telling us about his work, and applying it to your own. Think about how to design for what’s next, and by what people need or how to enhance capabilities that people already have. Think about designing enabling systems.
To see the talk be sure to check IxDA.org for the event videos which should be posted this week!