PART1: What is Human-Centered Design?
I recall zooming out every once in a while at elementary school just to grasp the obvious fact that some grown ups would have conceived every single object that exists anywhere in the world… and whatever else was yet to come anytime in the future.
Intriguingly, even simple items would look intricate and complex enough to me when noticing all sorts of tiny details. At that early age I wondered if a single individual could possibly come up with all sorts of different objects… and if everything had been designed from scratch at some point.
So, I vividly remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the staggering scope of what it would actually take to recreate my surroundings if I were to conceive each thing, big and small, on my own. That was mind-boggling and really hard to conceptualize back then.
The next minute I would put my mind at ease by zooming back in whatever contraption I was assembling. That typically involved a patchwork of worn out plastic bricks and school stationery items. All good enough to hold stuff together and to go a bit beyond squarish shapes. Other times, I would just draw what I couldn’t build and fantasize about it.
Either way, the entertaining game of making something interesting came with a kid’s craftsmanship pride. My father took notice and always displayed unconditional parental encouragement. So, he became the human my gadgets were centered on.
Admittedly, my early design work was directed by what I was personally interested in. In hindsight, operating within one’s belief system only while striving to deliver a signature design… might, or might not, match what is really needed. That becomes a hit or miss scenario, rather than adequately setting up a project for success.
Basically, success was based on the chance around (a) one’s own thinking was in lock-step with (b) consumer sentiment, (c) production economics and, most importantly, (d) the context of the end-user experience, instead of researching those first.
While “flying our on jets” (aka dogfooding) equips us with invaluable first hand insights to better design, we need to be aware of the fact that the designer might not necessarily share the optics and expectations of the target users. What’s obvious to us might not be that clear for everyone else, and the opposite is also true.
Purposely optimizing and professionally obsessing for and about meaningful human-centered outcomes was an acquired taste. Fortunately enough, role model professors and peers, coaches and mentors made all the difference.
Prioritizing and intersecting psychological, physiological and sociological considerations became an unequivocal expectation throughout my undergrad studies in Industrial Design at Massana Centre d’Art i Disseny. The most influential professors came from the worlds of architecture and industrial design, as well as fine arts, history and journalism.
The compelling effectiveness of people-first problem-solving was solidified by a grad degree in Human Factors Engineering at BarcelonaTECH. Dr. Pedro Mondelo, the program’s director at UPC, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, emphasized the delivery of lean (efficient) and highly productive (effective) systems, which was best achieved with human-centered and customer-focused methodologies. I’m glad to share that I was part of the 1991 class, the first one in Spain.
Things definitely came together for me by 1994. My paper on design and ergonomics for INSHT’s publication (Department of Labor, Government of Spain) addressed those and other related topics in context.
A few years later, I joined the MBA program at Chicago’s DePaul University as a Honeywell Be Brilliant Scholar, which introduced me to Behavioral Economics and seminal studies on choice, valuation and decision-making. In my view, Behavioral Economics is integral to Design Thinking’s Business Viability principle.
More recently, an MIT certificate on Big Data & Social Analytics focusing on the field of Human Dynamics and Social Physics brought along data science’s ability to scale Human-Machine-Systems. I have had the privilege to serve at MIT’s Advisory Board for IDSS, Institute of Data, Systems and Society, over the past few years, and I am now grateful for the opportunity to join CMP’s Design & Innovation Advisory Board.
As a Nokia Studio Head and Distinguished Member of Bell Labs, I pay my respects to those early BL pioneers who assembled the first interdisciplinary team devoted to Human-Factors-Engineering in the high-tech industry all the way back in 1947.
The Studio at Nokia’s Software Group thrives as an open collaborative environment involving customers and partners. Our workspace displays legendary Bell Labs artifacts as a proud reminder of our community’s ingenuity and source of inspiration.
BL’s leadership and foresight also coined the “” job to overcome the kind of technical myopia that silos can inflict, and also stated “ ” as the mission to innovate. BL is now part of Nokia’s family and joins the vision to deliver thoughtful technologies for a connected world that is “ .”