A sample from ‘Hippo: The Human Focused Digital Book’.
Chapter 1. Design and Humans
Even the most famous design company in the world – IDEO – uses the term Human Centred Design to describe its process and approach to problem solving. In their description, they define it as being ‘as much about your head as your hands’. It is the design philosophy behind their approach to creative problem solving, and shows people that how they think about design directly affects whether they’ll arrive at innovative, impactful solutions or not. IDEO work with the people they’re designing for by building a deep knowledge of their customers, developing prototypes along the way and closing with new solutions tailored to their needs. It’s lovely in theory but more human focused digital should focus on what makes us humans, not focus on what makes us users. As Simon Norris, managing director at Nomensa, a design consultancy that combines psychological insight with design, says: ‘Great design requires great psychology. Psychology is the science of behaviour and the mind. When design and behaviour match, the design will be superior.’ Ask yourselves a different question—what makes us behave? If we truly understand what makes us human, what triggers us, and why, then we would be designing differently and in respect to that, rather than the ‘user’ interfaces of today.
Historical record contains numerous examples of successful devices that required people to adapt to and learn from such devices. People were expected to acquire a good understanding of the activities to be performed and of the operation of the technology and because of this, we can then affirm that people adapt to the tools they are using, and not the other way around. Paul Davies, CEO of the psychology-led design consultancy Behaviour, states, ‘Unlike artists, designers have to make something that fixes a problem; an artist can start a project without a brief, but a designer has to have a purpose and they have to do that for a particular audience. There’s a common adage that designers are artists who can’t draw, I would argue that designers are actually psychologists who can draw.’
Our biggest flaw up until now with human focused design solutions has been in our inability to adapt to each person closely and it was science fiction to think we could do that intelligently – but technology just caught up. Whilst the individual is a moving target and designing for that individual of today means the design will probably be wrong tomorrow (everything is in a constant state of emergence, change, flux), I believe we do now have the right pieces in place to start (at the very least) thinking about a design world that does adapt and change to each person. If this is in itself a problem to solve, I have realised from my re-building days that a lot of time can in fact be wasted beginning to re-build a thing when the thing in and of itself is not necessary to begin with.
Realising what is relevant first and then grounding ourselves in that seat is the right first mark to hit, else this bull in the china shop approach to design will now begin to contribute nothing as the design world has—for many of us—arrived at a place, where unless we pause and inflect, shiny lights on sneakers will macro out and human progress will be forgotten as our handle on what we are and what we want and need—with respect to progress—will become a lost target within the bamboozling, and bombarding world of sneakers with shiny lights on.
I am a person. I want to get from A-C via B. B is a piece of technology that enables a transition. In order to make B effective you need to understand the psychological factors of A (the driver) to make sure B (the vehicle) gets you to C (your destination).
In understanding the psychological factors of A, we will know if we even want to ride B to C. Sometimes, when addressing the route of the A, we lift immense amounts of pressure, tasks and graft from our schedules because, nobody ever wanted to do ‘A’ to begin with! We just thought we did. In addressing A, we understood A. Do you really want to get on that train or have you just been sold the idea of ‘The Island’? In the science fiction film set in 2019, Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta live in a compound. Residents believe that the outer world has become too contaminated for human life… with the exception of The Island. Each week a lottery is played and the winner leaves the compound to live on the paradise island, which they are shown video feeds of: a heaven on earth. Due to the possibility of winning, inhabitants are kept ‘hoping’. They have after all committed to the idea of The Island for many years, so aren’t going to quit suddenly. Through entrainment, the collective of inhabitants support the myth of The Island, and the hope self perpetuates out of necessity. Hope of a better day, belief in progress, and belief in a fictitious utopia, instead of grounding the self into the now and being here – in this reality.
Human focused digital is that apex between technology and interface. How can we make the technology more human centred and the way it’s consumed feel more human? Surely we must look at the things that make us human? For a long time, we’ve been too hung up on the interface, and unable to articulate the technology, obsessing over the ergonomics and the usability of the artefacts and information we produce. As the information sciences started to become more important to the experiences we produced, the design world evolved and that’s why more human focused systems are going to now be key: so for technology, interface and information science to converge at a deeper level, we must take the cross-disciplinary approach to design and revise why we did ‘A’, want to do ‘A’ and what ‘A’ is.
Our industry is made up of many disciples from computer science, sociology, psychology, the cognitive sciences, anthropology, communication studies, and graphic design all the way to industrial design. Considering the relevance of the fundamental questions that underpin our discussion, shouldn’t that group expand out to include philosophers, artists, writers and storytellers? This is the first thing: to incorporate those holistic creative minds who ‘feel’ more and then to merge a balanced entrance in with a practice of designing for the lowest common denominator—and not showing off with our logical, analytical egos. It is time to bring in the rare Myers-Briggs INFP’s, and not forget the necessity of the rare group who introvert, intuit, feel and perceive because Shakespeare, Tolkien, Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling, Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Milton, Blake and Van Gough were all of this rare calibration, and somehow able to access very deeply an ocean of design and shape to present back to humanity the thing we are all struggling to understand—everything. Incorporating creative artists is for many a low entry point, especially when big design corporations can employ top computer scientists and rocket engineers because they are the ones who are intelligent—but remember, there are many different types of intelligence.
We must be interested in design that is capable of understanding the person or people who know the least, not the most – so testing out work with two types of people – children and pensioners might be a good place to start. They’re the least technical people you know and at the same time, the wisest, having learnt nothing or unlearnt everything, and therefore using them as the consumer of all digital design work is the easiest way of defining something enjoyable for all others. As well as stepping back and learning from people, designers must not hesitate to shed this linear, analytical ego and go one stage further. Letting go, next becomes the most effective method to sustainable progress because people, you will find, figure out how to solve issues on their own.
Trust then can become the default position of your design practice, and trusting that the collective feedback of markets will not only co-ordinate your design forward more effectively but in letting go and not leading, the feedback data in fact becomes an ocean of knowledge and within that – there is data and within that – patterns emerge, ones you were previously not considering. It can then be easier to edge and lead forward once these patterns are in position and, as long as the human condition is constantly catered for and encouraged, you may find yourself edging people forward not only in a way that it becomes highly efficient as a work method, but it is for the benefit of the whole. Thus, the trajectory has revealed itself and you as a designer can simply stand back, fold arms and observe the beauty of a growth pattern you have structurally engineered and do less, not more, to get there.
Human focused design is about helping to identify the things you need to do for people to help them get to the root of the problem, and then stepping aside. Instead of playing ‘doctor’, practise the letting go principle and enjoy watching that the body will in fact self-heal and self align. To summarise, people will find their own solutions and conventions within your general framework. People, you see, can be compared to the humble sardine, especially in modern society. When we take one sardine out of the tin, that seems to allow space for another to move, breathe and live – to swim off in the direction it knew to anyway – the direction that its inner compass was wanting to take it off in all along. When left, life will naturally align with what is harmonious to flow. If you prevent breathing and space to ‘be’, you are hurting, cornering and snookering and you are creating a huge amount of work for yourself as you then try so hard to motivate and encourage. You then try to draw blood out of a stone and give in, sit back and exhale in exhaustion. What just happened? It’s about this: don’t do things better, do better things. In other words, try less, don’t force – and be. Observe also yourself and question why you are doing what you are, what your motivations are to force a design through and don’t judge yourself, just observe and answers will emerge, you yourself will re-align and consequently, so will your design work and any results of your genius harmonious blueprints.
Science fiction has always predicted that technology would dominate and triumph over the imperfect nature of the human being and that we would reach new heights of health and perfectionism but is this review and observation of our imperfect nature something we should build to accommodate or something we should just accept? That the human condition is not perfect? And that there is nothing wrong with that, and that reaching into utopian futures has in fact been forever the forerunner for forceful and ego driven regimes. Is the emergence of new technologies perhaps in fact something to flow with in its emergence in a balance, while we evolve? Is it not for us both to evolve in parallel? New technologies have an ability to steer us towards greater self-realisation, and that must surely be the case – otherwise, why would digital tech exist? If it didn’t evolve out of ingenuity as a natural evolutionary emergence, why is it with us? That being said, if it is not here to aid in our evolutionary journey to ‘know thyself’, to clear us of pollutions, to sustain our earth planet and to harness clean energies, then why is it here? If it is not here to help and aid, then it will dissolve away.
With this in mind, we are all collectively in the perfect win-win scenario and because of this – mothers can relax about how much their kids are playing with their iPads – and they can assure themselves now that it will basically sort itself out. Nature has a way of finding this balance. If digital tech can’t help us progress, it will run its course and similarly, if it is to continue, it will do so bending toward nurturing our progress, so fear not the rise of the machines. Meanwhile, in a funny way, that fear and paranoia can in fact conjure those very machines! In her book No Go The Bogeymen, Marina Warner examines the presence of male terror figures in song and story, establishing their origins in mythology. Used as frightening monsters to lessen or represent ‘the very terrors that our sleep of reason conjures up,’ Warner shows how the bogeymen unfold with strategic purpose, warning us of the dangers our ignorance plays when we reproduce the monster, like the Bogeymen in Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy series Discworld where the monster appears as an anthropomorphic personification of children’s fears. Without fear, no monster would manifest, but as the psychologists knew it, with fear, anything can be created. The paranoia and hysteria of x, creates—x.