Open your mind: The definition of design is too narrow, says Andrew Barraclough, VP of Design at GSK

Open your mind: The definition of design is too narrow, says Andrew Barraclough, VP of Design at GSK

Design is all about people

Among the few gains that lockdown has proffered, it has given many of us a moment to pause, to reassess our lives and perhaps simplify where possible.

Within this environment, the need for intuitive design comes to the fore – for products and services to be effortless, for processes to be instinctual and for use to be innate. And the single most important factor for ensuring intuitive design is to start from the personal perspective – to be ‘people obsessed’.

The simple truth is if you don’t understand people you won’t be a good designer.

The skill of the designer is to listen with your eyes. 

You can ask people what they do and have a conversation, or you can watch them. When you watch them what you discover is that they don’t always quite do what they say they do. So, at the very start of the design process, it’s not just about listening but seeing.

We start with people, we end with people, but we also go back to them time and again as the design evolves – iteration is crucial. Talking to users at the start, heading off for six months to work on designs and not returning until the process is complete, is a recipe for disaster. 

Create, test, learn, use, improve, iterate. 

It’ll be right when it’s so good people won’t want to give it back.

The future’s an opportunity to improve

The methodology is design thinking – is it desirable, viable, feasible, and sustainable? 

Use prototyping – by starting with low fidelity, you reduce the risk and cost of development and you can improve the quality as you move through the iterations.

This human obsession and need to iron out all the problems does mean designers are working toward a never-ending finish line. 

When your product or service does launch, it’s the worst it’s ever going to be. You can then instantly learn. Future tweaks and iterations will improve it.

Look at banking apps, they constantly require updating. 

This is because, working in the background, the developers are constantly learning how customers use the service. 

While these digital applications have a head start on iteration compared with many businesses, all brands can learn from the tech sector by applying agile design and a co-creation process.

Don’t tell people what to do

Agile design may have its genesis in the software industry, with UX/UI design predicated from digital, but every business can be obsessed by customer journeys and that thinking can be used across other channels. 

Product and packaging design may not be able to react as quickly, but they can still adopt intuitive design principles; and designing websites calls on this thinking across all sectors.

People’s tolerance for design that requires explanation has changed. 

Compare the huge instruction book that came with the first video recorders and people’s user experience of Amazon or Uber. People would almost feel insulted if their new iPhone arrived with a user manual. We went from instruction books to quick start guides to an expectation now that no instructions will be needed. 

Tech has led this charge and set a precedent; it’s poor design if you need instructions.

Open your mind

Not all companies have adopted good design strategy.

This is often because their definition of design is too narrow. 

They think of pictures on boxes, not people-obsessed problem solvers. 

Some companies’ view of the design skillset is too limited. 

Twenty years ago, it was very narrow – furniture, fashion, graphic, and product design. Now it’s UX/UI/service design/sound design, experience design... – a much broader skill set. 

We have to move from a rear-view mirror of where the design industry used to be, to the significant value it can add to a business, brand, and consumer today. This is a much more expansive design definition.

We would hope that design is always improving but there are cautionary examples such as the TV remote control – how many buttons it includes compared with those people actually use. 

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

We need to be alert to the risk of being led by the 'tech push' rather than the 'consumer pull'.

Intuitive design doesn’t require advances in materials or technology – you can reconfigure things with what you’ve already got to create better outcomes. 

Great design is not one big thing but often many small incremental gains that can deliver a significant positive net overall gain. 

Now is the time to reconsider your definition of design and the significant strategic value it can bring to your business.

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