/ multidisciplinary design
Every time someone asks me what I do, I have to pause for a moment searching for the right answer. If I am working on a User Experience assignment should I say: "I am UX Designer", or simply answer: "I am a Designer", which inevitably results in a follow-up question: "So what type of design do you do?" Right now I have a large service design project, a web-based project and a couple of print assignments. Being an independent consultant for the last 14 years gave me a chance to play many different design roles. "I am a Multidisciplinary Designer" answer leads to even more questions... which actually is a very good thing. A conversation starts and it is always nice to hear different views and opinions. Below you will find some of my thoughts and I hope we can continue this conversation in person.
Design Thinking or Design Approach is now at the centre of interest in places you would not normally associate it with. Harvard School of Business invites Service Designers to talk about their methodology. Banks, financial institutions and government agencies bring on designers or simply acquire whole design studios realizing what design has to offer. Last time design received so much attention was about 100 years ago when Bauhaus and Modernism were born. Why now all of the sudden design become the go-to solution for all the problems that we face? I think the answer lays in the approach to problem-solving.
I like to think that designer is a skilled negotiator. A facilitator—a person who can convince several sides to agree on something that requires a lot of negotiations, compromises, and often a leap of faith to find a solution. Imagine that you are asked to design a chair. You have to understand the context, the people who will sit on it, the available materials and technology, the funding and its limits, and lastly the actual design. A lot of variables and opinions to deal with. The designer is caught between the business needs and the market interest and there is one more element often neglected—the aesthetics. No matter how functional and wise it is, there is this undefined element, the secret ingredient which will allow the person who sat in this chair experience delight. Without beauty, we will have yet another chair. This is true for any design-based profession and the link between Product Designers, UX Designers, Graphic Designers is the user. I really don't like word "user". I think we should always design with humans in mind rather than "users" or "consumers" as businesses like to call us.
It is an interesting profession. You don't have to get a licence to practice Design. Unlike doctors or engineers who require completing studies and pass complex exams before being allowed to work in the field, all you need to do to become a designer is to start your first project. Of course, there are design schools and some of them are really good, but that's not the point. The point is that you have to have it inside you, and even if you do go to an art school as I did, the learning process never stops. Your experience as a designer is measured in the sum of your total live experiences—things that are not related to the design but often more important than colour theory or the history of type.
About Service Design
I don't exactly recall when or where I first saw term Service Design, however, I do know that it changed my perspective, and I realized that with Service Design—which is not yet another design speciality—I can combine all my skills and processes into an inter-disciplinary set. I saw the other day Mark Stickdorn (co-authour of "This is Design Thinking" book) speaking on the separation of UX, UI, IxD, and the whole array of sub-disciplines that we now have present. One of the key ideas of Service Design is the ability to cross channels or silos in order to create a seamless experience. Mark pointed out—I could not agree more—that somehow we put back a similar silos structure—UX Design, Interaction Design, UI Design, or any X Design for that matter—dividing again, instead of removing barriers. Service Design Approach is about co-creating—not collaborating. When you co-create, you work as one.
In his book "Design, When Everybody Designs" Ezio Manzini wrote that "what connectivity does to society is the same what temperature does to plastic"—it melts everything. Barriers are blurred. What used to work and was considered well organized loses its status. Elastic reality takes over. The analytic business world based on numbers and predictions feels the forces that shift its foundations. Design, on the other hand, is all about shifting perspectives. This is what we do. We build and test, we look from every angle and iterate. We like to mix methods and approaches that allow us to see the world through the eyes of people using our design and connect with them in the context of their lives. It's a mindset, and this is actually why Design Thinking is now in the centre of attention and the role of a Design Expert is to help and guide interdisciplinary teams in a co-creative process.
About User Experience
Many companies will say that they apply UX principles to all their work, but the reality is that they don't. Conducting user interviews or making flowcharts, wireframes or preparing personas does not really change things. Again, it's a set of mind, the curiosity and empathy—do not mix it with compassion—that allows you to truly understand and respect people's position without judging their actions. This is where the sum of your life experience comes handy, and for me, this is where I can put on my architecture, graphic design, or user experience lens. It's the mix method approach which generates the best outcome. You need to explore before you can validate.
UX Design is a necessity—you should not even mention it. It really makes no sense to go ahead and design something based only on your assumptions. Of course, if you are experienced, the result may be good. Sometimes you may even strike exactly into the centre of the problem, but in most cases, it is a recipe for disaster. Once you learn what UX offers, there is no way back. It doesn't matter how you call it—it's about what it brings to the process. Watching how your design is explored and understood is priceless.
About Design Process
There is a lot of conversations related to finding the best Design Process. I don't think there is one. I think there are as many processes as projects. The first step is to define a suitable process for your project. Everything matters—the general context, the budget, the audience, the size of your team, the timeline. No matter what is the size of your project—connecting with the people who are going to use your product will always improve it. Moving quickly, testing and changing without losing momentum, getting feedback and acting on it is the essence of the good user-centred process.
For me, Service Design Approach provides the best of all worlds. Instead of focusing on just one aspect or step of the project, I like to move far back in an attempt to understand what goes through the mind of a person who is not using the service yet but may in the future. With some help from cognitive psychology and behavioural science, the designer can take advantage of the available knowledge and learn how people connect and communicate with the world. For instance, knowing how Peripheral Vision controls our impression and sense of an environment allows building a certain feel of the product. Often the journey a person takes while using the product you are working on defines the actual process.