Fundamentally, regardless of the various terms and jargon used to customize and capture the design process as one unique to one’s own industrial design studio, the design process is at heart a balancing process of equilibrium that is viable, desirable, and feasible between the opposing forces of all the stakeholder interests involved. What tends to get short shrift, no matter the labels and emotions used, is the user’s perspective when the time comes to take important decisions in the studio or the boardroom. Speaking up for the user is how I used to interpret the human centered designer’s role back before the pandemic changed our operating conditions on a global and systemic scale.
Today, I have arrived at the level of understanding the designer’s role where I can visualize building a creative design bridge (see Cross, 1997a,b; Cross & Dorst, 2001) as something interpretable across cultural, demographic, and functional diversity among the target audience. The diagram below is supported in its keyword logic by empirical data from my dissertation research field data (2020-2021).
Understanding is the point of Immersion in the operating environment of the end users wherein one does all kinds of activities from design anthropology’s toolbox of methods and techniques (well sorted here by Sanders et al, 2010). Simply doing user research is not enough if there’s no comprehensive sensemaking of the holistic system attributes within which these end users reside. Rural Kenya is not rural Finland and neither is a European Union capital of some increasing note – Helsinki has started showing up in stock photos in the news. Therefore, I go back to this first principle – the reason why Immersion is the first phase of the human centered design (HCD) process and the reason why design & user research is necessary. This understanding or comprehension of the whole system or at least a sense of the way the flows within the system work provides the agency for action. That is, it is the underlying principle of actionable insights synthesized for the product development team in the next phase of the HCD process.
I realize that I can better work on writing out each of the 4 phases in the form of a high quality journal article.