Humanity centred design

Human Centred design is dead – or it should be!

As designers we’ve always put the person who is the end-user at the centre of our design process. We refer to the end-user as the last link of the chain: the link at the end. We talk about creating an experience for this person. We conduct research and understand their socio-economic situation. We develop personas based on interviews and observation along with a miriad of other tools. This is human centred design (HCD).

HCD has served us well from 1988 when Don Norman, then a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, published The Psychology of Everyday Things. This was later retitled The Design of Everyday Things. Norman set out a consumer-oriented view of natural human interaction by examining the links between design and human psychology.

Don Norman teamed up with Jakob Nielsen to form the NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. Through this they have contributed a huge amount of information about human centred design. The research methods article page is a trove of content.

In 2022 Don Norman revisited his thinking. He explains it in this video.
He calls it Humanity Centred Design. The new HCD.

Humanity Centred Design

Humanity Centred Design requires us to design communications, products, services, and systems that satisfy the needs and desires of communities who use them. It’s a human-centered approach that goes beyond just considering the individual user, to include the social, cultural, and environmental context in which the design will be used. It also includes the communities who produce the resources used.

Humanity Centred Design starts with research and understanding the needs, values, and aspirations of the communities who will be impacted by the design. This research may include interviews, observations, and ethnographic studies to gather data on how people live, work, and interact with their community.

The designer uses this information to create solutions that meet the needs and desires of the users, however it also has to be respectful of the cultural and social context in which they will be used.

As Don Norman points out Humanity Centred Design considers the whole life cycle. What resources need to be consumed to produce the communications, products, services, and systems. No longer do we blithely say we will build a stunning high performing website and blitz social media because we know that by 2025, web servers could use 20% of all electricity produced and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions.

While Norman does not offer solutions to these problems he does point out we need to start with the educators and their role in preparing designers. I would add the responsibility of design associations and design leaders to start addressing this issue.

Co-creation with impacted communities

One of the key principles of Humanity Centred Design is co-creation, where the designer works closely with community members to co-create solutions that meet their needs and desires. This approach is used in human centred design but it doesn’t place communities at the core. However consulting and working with communities that use the product is just one part of it. Humanity Centred Design calls for designers to work with the communities that produce the resources consumed in the making of the communications, products, services, and systems

This leads to considering the importance of sustainability, environmental impact and social impact. The designer must consider the long-term effects of the design on the environment and on the well-being of all communities.

So what’s the answer?

We don’t have it. All we know is we have to start the conversation that shifts the thinking from the individualism of human centred design to the collective humanity centred design. We need a collaborative approach that involves all community members, and emphasises sustainability. It’s an approach that prioritises community needs over those of the designer or the organisation, resulting in more inclusive and sustainable design solutions.

Greg Branson

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Want more?

These articles talk more about working in the creative industry:

1 What is humanity centred design.
2 Humanity versus Human centred design article by Don Norman
3 What does community centred design look like.

About Greg

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a Businerss of Design Short Course that help designers rethink their business.

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