System Thinking requires a deep understanding of next-generation needs. Current foundations are not incrementally improved; rather, new ideas that need different strategy directions are uncovered. The circle has widened. Systems today are large, complex and heavily integrated with a broader ecosystem. Experience with a product now includes the user’s social circle experience with both the product and its competitors, which extends to numerous touch points beyond just the UI.
Design researchers are now more collaborative than ever, often sharing the process of continuous education with the entire team. They are no longer siloed experts; instead, they function as mentors embedded within an agile team. The use of data is imperative and, as such, a data science skillset or data scientist collaboration is increasingly essential.
Design research must also support the vision and strategy formulation to help clarify and align all stakeholders involved. It is impractical to design for every user need, so companies must learn to prioritize what to deliver based on their strategic direction, understand who their users should be, and work out what they can best provide for them. A researcher must be an excellent storyteller with the ability to influence executives by addressing what is important to them.
A multinational educational startup looked to reinvent education from the ground up to gain a deeper understanding of how multicultural students, parents, faculty and staff wanted to be supported by technology. They teamed with Infosys, which led to the development of a flexible data platform. This platform underpins the student, staff, and parent-focused applications, allowing them to provide personalized attention based on unique needs. Without system-focused design research, the team would have been limited in the number of use-cases considered, and a much more restrictive application would have been conceived.
From “Dark UX” (design elements that subtly push the user in a direction they didn’t intend to take) to “Surveillance Capitalism” (unilaterally claiming private human experiences for profit), the decisions made by designers have an impact across societies. Even decisions made to help people can backfire if not thoroughly vetted. Consider how “creepy artificial intelligence” has exploited personal information.
Companies can improve customer trust and transparency by adopting an approach to ‘human-centered design,’ which recognizes and respects people’s needs and privacy.
Human-centered design helps recognize and respect what people will and will not accept from an organization. Companies must be able to convey transparency and trust to customers and users. This trust has become a new currency that companies can earn to gain loyalty. Regulations like CCPA/GDPR lay out the bare minimum required to comply with the law, but the truly successful companies will harness a deep understanding of their target audience to go above and beyond.
For example, as countries return to the office amid the COVID-19 pandemic, building wellness solutions will need to balance safety and health tracking with patient and employee privacy. A ‘smart space’ that employees trust and view as being ‘on their side’ will increase both satisfaction and compliance.
As companies harness new artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions, designers must take care to ensure algorithms and datasets used do not perpetuate inequalities and biases found in the world today – whether racial, gender-based, or economic. One way to do this is by turning the standard approach to design on its head: starting the design process by focusing on under-represented or repressed user groups, working to create solutions that first work for them, and then adapting the solution to also fit the wider audience.
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