User-Centered Design

So we started a new workshop today, and it's really exciting. It's a 2 week preparation for our new semester project, and I find the premise to be really useful. I think it will challenge me a lot.

We are learning how to use particular methods to focus our designs on the needs of the user. Seems obvious, I know, but very often designers just start drawing and sketching 'from scratch' with invented problems they have made, or based on only their own experiences. This is a way of problem finding and problem solving, something Richard Sennett would definitely see as a manifestation of 'craftsmanship' in design. 

The role of the designer takes a completely different turn; we are no longer the 'experts' giving our own version of beautiful forms. We have to get a profound insight into the user, and then integrate that insight into the design process. The designer is more an empathetic listener than a unique 'artist.'

Why use this method?

Today, it's not enough just to make a beautiful form... we are asked to give a deeper understanding of our role in the world. We have the opportunity to influence the way people live through our designs. As people moved from an industrialized society to an intellectual society, there are more demands for objects to fit themselves to the human user, rather than the other way around. The designer's task is to create value for the user. 

We had a very good introduction by a self-employed designer here in Copenhagen, and our task for Wednesday is to find out 'what we want to know'. This includes identifying the user, how to contact the user, the problem, relevant and insightful questions, and relevant background information. From there we will be doing actual field work--using tools we will come up with in the next 2 days to gather information from users. Since our semester project will be to design a chair for elderly people, we plan to use a 'make your own chair' type of flip book, with different options for legs, seat, and back. In this way we can analyze people's aesthetics and practical views. 

Now, we just need to find some old people....