Bad things happen as we stop solving people problems and start solving business problems

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Ask a designer who the most important stakeholder in their design process is and they will dutifully answer “the user.” It’s been drilled into us that our job is to represent the people who will use our products. We “empathize” with them and put their needs in the center of our decision-making process.

On paper, this sounds great, and many organizations wear the badge of human-centered design with pride. But when you take a step back and start to consider all the negative consequences that are created by these very same organizations, it becomes clear that something is amiss.


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IDEO is one of the most well known and successful design consultancies in the world. But in recent days they’ve gotten pushback on Instagram for their record on diversity and the state of diversity in design in general.

This is a critical conversation, and it’s fitting that IDEO would be a flashpoint. The design process they championed and popularized perpetuates a belief that any person can design for anyone else, and this belief plays a central role in design’s continuing lack of diversity.

Despite making gains in the past two decades, design is still woefully monochromatic. A survey of nearly…

The ongoing battle for design ownership often ignores the real consequences of making design decisions

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There are a few ongoing debates in the world of digital design. Things like Should designers code?”, “What’s the value of design?”, “UX versus UI,” and, perhaps most fundamentally, “Is everyone a designer?” To get a taste for the flavor of that last one, you can step into this Twitter thread from a little while back (TLDR: It didn’t go super well for anyone):

To be clear at the outset, I don’t care if everyone is a designer. However, I’ve been considering this debate for a while and I think there is something interesting here that’s worth further inspection…

Why taking care of workers is good for business

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Three years ago, I couldn’t stand for any period of time without my lower back seizing up. I had chronic nerve pain running from my left shoulder to my left wrist. It was bad enough that I couldn’t sleep. I was at least 20 pounds overweight and more out of shape than I had been in a decade. I was 35 years old. My physical condition was not what I would call optimal.

I had fallen into the hustle trap. At the time, I was head of product for a tech company, and the long hours had caught up with…

Why you can’t compare the smartphone to books

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We build a lot of technology and push it out into the world. When things go well, we rush to take credit for what we did. But when things go wrong, we hide our heads in the sand. This isn’t just about ignoring negative outcomes — it’s about maintaining the status quo.

Whenever I write a critical piece about technology and its impact on society, a certain kind of troll surfaces. I like to call them the “techno-whataboutist.” …

Your measure of success should focus on users, not the business

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The process of user-centered design focuses a lot of attention on finding the right problem. There are many tools and processes that can be used to suss out user needs and motivations and boil it all down into clearly defined problems to be solved. But with all these tools at our disposal, how can we still end up with less than optimal and often negative outcomes for the people we are supposed to be helping?

The issue is that our obsession with solving the correct problem frequently takes our focus away from an even more important aspect of the project…

Designing for the “happy path” best-case scenario leaves our most vulnerable users on the margins

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In our drive for speed, we have conditioned ourselves to ignore our most vulnerable users. We design for the happy path, and society pays the price.

The happy path

To create digital products, designers often start by developing a set of scenarios or use cases. These scenarios help determine the features, interactions, and technological infrastructure required in a product.

As an example, let’s think about Facebook. When Mark Zuckerberg was initially creating the social network he may have had a scenario like this in his head:

“An undergrad who wants to share pictures from a party with her friends.”

This is a straightforward…

The chance to make better choices with a nascent technology

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Augmented reality (AR) is technology designed to enhance the physical world by integrating digital images into or on top of it. These composite experiences are often delivered through a heads-up display built into glasses or goggles, or in its current nascent form, via a smartphone camera.

AR differs from VR (virtual reality) in the way it integrates with the physical world. VR is a completely digital experience not tied to reality, like playing an immersive video game. AR, on the other hand, directly modifies a person’s experience of the real world.

This deep integration of the real and the digital…

Are we psychologically primed to focus on the wrong parts of our product?

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In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Noble Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman discusses the psychological phenomenon of loss aversion, which he, along with Amos Tversky, first identified back in 1979. At its core, loss aversion refers to the tendency of the human brain to react more strongly to losses than it does to gains. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, people “prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it is better to not lose $5 than to find $5.” This phenomenon is so ingrained in our psyche that some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.


To survive in a world of change, stop designing for the best-case scenario

Animation by Shira Inbar

In March of 2008, salmonella infiltrated the public water system of the town of Alamosa in southern Colorado. The resulting disease outbreak infected an estimated 1,300 people, over 14% of the town’s population. Of those infected, one person died and 20 more were hospitalized. The Alamosa outbreak was the second-largest water-borne illness outbreak in the United States that decade.

Though teams worked as quickly as they could to sanitize the water system, the people of Alamosa were unable to use the water for weeks. While some people were able to get water from friends who had wells or were otherwise…

Jesse Weaver

My newsletter: | Director of Entrepreneurial Design @cmci_studio | Founder @ Design Like You Mean It

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