In todays world we have unanimously accepted that technology comes first. We often design without due respect for the user and with high regard for technology. Technology should act in accordance with us, and not vise-versa. When you look at it at first, this is an easy observation with which to agree. But when you dig deeper, you reach to an inferred assumption: that the needs of people are by any means unalloyed–untarnished by external factors.
People’s wants and needs do not sprout by themselves; they are built gradually by different experiences over the years, including their experiences with technology, and in turn, technology is shaped by users’ expectations. For this very reason, the desktop PC was designed around historical office artifacts like file cabinets, notepads, and trash cans. We still call the modern mobile handset a phone, regardless of how little of that analogy still applies.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE
Let’s look at a simple example, engines of Indian Railways. It generates noise. For many, this quality has become the very definition of the experience. We have learned to equate noise with a powerful engine. A noisy engine has never been a “user-centric” concept. It is obvious that no user explicitly wanted noise, when the technology was first produced. Yet we have come to expect it, and some even desire it.
human-centered design expert Don Norman believes that poorly designed technology drives many of the challenges of our overcomplicated lives.
This is the crucial “give and take” relationship between people and technology. The most luxurious cars are not expressions of unsullied customer desires. Those don’t exist. The great design cues in automotive design are the byproduct of the technology itself. No doubt the rise of electric, autonomous cars will change our definition of good car design, too. – Don Norman
A designer must take into account what the user wants, but ultimately frame those desires within the constraints of the technology. A great design does even more than that. It shapes the user’s expectations around those constraints. For cars, noise equals power. For mobile handsets, thin equals power. Neither was an original user inception. A user’s ideal experience is defined by their experience with technology.
But when designers make assumption that people know what they want in a new technology, they end up despairingly swamped in the past–creating horseless buggies, keyboards modeled after typewriters, and mobile computers we still call phones.
A MORE NUANCED VIEW OF HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN
It’s time to introduce a more sophisticated view of human-centered design. Designers have long told valuable stories about the need for better design. But oversimplifying the narrative masks a profound shift happening right now. We are changing through our persistent use of technology. The mobile phone is always with us, letting us search for anything yet challenging what it means to “know” anything. Amid our curated online identities and interactions, alongside our still raw offline relationships, what truly defines our sense of self? If anything can be simulated, what now defines the truth? With persistent connectivity, even concepts of time and space are being compressed beyond recognition because we regularly expect to be in contact with people, places, and information from anywhere at any time.
All of the critical ways we define ourselves are being changed by our relationship to technology. To suggest that technology must be designed strictly around what people want is missing the central theme of our time: We crave experiences that are driven by technology. And from this, technology has become inseparable from who we are, and from any notion of what we want.
Read the original blog post on fastcompany.com