Human-centered design is fantastic, designers all agree. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and it will make the world a better place. At least, that’s what we designers like to think is the result of our work.
I came across this intriguing model by Ralf Beuker, called Design Strategy at a Glance, and am torn between delight at its interestingness and a creepy feeling that my goal as a designer is to improve the world as a side benefit to ensuring my employer makes money.
When I examine the model, and especially the language, people become target users and making the world a better place turns into reaching strategic objectives. This kind of language, the language of business, says we only care about the humans if doing so will boost profits. Now, I’m not saying this is the case, but it sounds that way. And sometimes I don’t like the way it sounds.
It is my hope that as management programs and managers themselves embrace design, it will be not merely a tool to exploit, but will instill a change in thinking, a philosophical and ethical stance that acknowledges the service element of design. By that I’m referring to design as “service on behalf of the other,” a point from Nelson and Stolterman‘s The Design Way. Of course, the “other” could be an organization, which does consist of people. And keeping organizations going is a worthwhile endeavor, considering the people who rely on organizations for their well being. But the above model does not address this. Perhaps that’s just the reality of business and management speak.
But I’d like to think it’s possible to design the language of business to sound more human. Strengthening brand, executing strategy, and making things good for people through human-centered design all need to live harmoniously to receive mutual benefit. Designers should be conscious of the symbiotic relationship that exists with business and management, and be wary of being seen only as a tool for profit. It’s great that design becoming more strategic and designers are able to employ a more human-centered approach. But I wonder, to what end?