Human-centered design pioneer and author Don Norman recently worked with the Interaction Design Foundation to present a Master Class on 21st Century Design. The talk was inspired by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals which focus on multidisciplinary, community-based approaches to solve complex global challenges.
As a UX architect, designer, and practitioner at Perficient, I work within a variety of cross-functional teams from different business units that interact heavily with business stakeholders. I saw many parallels between the themes of Norman’s talk and the collaborative work that we do every day. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Understanding end users is key to good product design.
A key principle to human-centered design is studying people to understand the best ways to solve the problem. When we look at systemic community problems such as malnutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of access to healthcare, Norman stresses that we cannot ignore learning about the community itself, and its culture. To have a team of experts “swoop in” and implement solutions that only treat the symptoms won’t be effective or efficient. To really get at the core issues of the problem, it’s crucial to learn about the people it affects.
In the same way, we tackle a wide variety of complex problems across a diverse set of projects at Perficient. Understanding the needs of end users is always the priority, and we have experts across business units that engage in market research and analysis. Within the Experience Design (XD) business unit, we employ qualitative UX research methodologies such as one-to-one interviews leading to persona and journey map creation, as well as tools to test website architecture and prototypes before finalizing design. The goal of this research is to “walk in the user’s shoes,” clearly identify pain points, and design the best solution.
Cross-disciplinary partnerships boost business and customer value.
Solving pressing societal issues requires an alliance of trust amongst diverse groups whose members often have very different ways of looking at the world from areas such as business, politics, science, healthcare, and more. For designers of the 21st century, Norman emphasized the importance of being part of the discussions; essentially “learning the language” of these other disciplines and building partnerships. During the 20th century, design was more about designing something clever, visually compelling, or beautiful; now it’s about connecting with other experts to find solutions to critical human problems.
As Perficient consultants, we work to solve complex problems for our clients, and a big part of this is becoming adept at speaking their language. Furthermore, our multi-disciplinary project teams consist of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets, across multiple business units. Cross-team collaboration is built into the Perficient culture, the concept of the 21st-century design described by Norman is going strong as well. It is an expectation that designers collaborate early and often across the project lifecycle, and refine ideas based on research and learnings about business and end-user needs.
Planning for what could go wrong is crucial.
We know from the above points that having a good understanding of end-user needs and fluid collaboration with mission-critical colleagues are both necessary for a successful design. But as Norman points out, a critical piece of it all is designing for when things go wrong. When details of what can go wrong are not explored and something unexpected happens for the end user, it leads to other problems. Norman stresses that there’s no such thing as “user error,” only errors within the design.
At Perficient, we have a variety of approaches to proactively uncover issues to be addressed within design:
- Incorporate a discovery phase into the project, where we learn deeply about the problem we’re trying to solve from many angles and perspectives (i.e., business stakeholders, end-user audiences, the internal business end-user) so that we can design a framework for the solution. This helps to give a holistic view of the problem space before we even get into design or content creation.
- Conduct heuristic analyses of current designs, along with competitive analyses to uncover improvements and best practices.
- Interview end users to create personas and journey maps, identifying pain points and design solutions.
- Research into navigation, such as card sorting or tree testing.
- Prototype usability testing, to explore or validate design direction.
Whether addressing complex societal issues or launching a new product, particular steps need to be taken to make it a success. First, it’s essential to research the community or end user needs to design a solution that truly works for them. Next, cross-disciplinary partnerships must be forged across the team with fluid collaboration so that the problem can be tackled comprehensively, from multiple angles. Finally, exploration and research into the problem space should be taken so that potential points of friction and opportunities for an enhanced experience can be discovered.
Perficient teams work to design for the 21st century. Want to learn more?