articles with #human centered design


Do you have children? If not, no problem, because you might recall these yourself: the parent conference days! This ‘running-around-at-the-school-campus-and-looking-for-the-room’ where teachers are waiting for parents and their school-kids. Depending on the pupils’ ‘performance level’, the numbers of meetings were few or many and likewise a torture or purely a matter of duty.



The room was slowly filling up with the employees. One after the other they took their seats and didn’t look too pleased: the speech that I was about to be holding did interrupt the longed-for transition from their dinner to a well deserved drink at the bar! So this left me with the task to ensure that those snaring away during my talk would not animate the others to follow suit.



They made the appointment together, father and daughter, in order to find out what the bachelor in design management is all about. Apparently she was looking for a study program in which she could follow her affinity towards creativity, whereas Dad seemed to have something in mind, which would lead to a solid job qualification, and would be of real value in the economy as he knows it. That’s why the ‘management’ in the program’s title seemed to ease him a bit and accordingly he was very curious to find out what the heck ‘design’ had to do with it.
If it was their attempt to find a compromise between themselves that brought them in my office I cannot tell, but during our conversation it became clear to me that she was there mainly because of the design, and he only because of the management.


design focus

It was a terrifying sight: a clutter of cables, tubes and pipes was hanging down from the ceiling and gave the scenery the impression of a torture chamber, just like you know from these old b&w horror movies – hello from Dr. Frankenstein!

Somehow it seemed that the grim atmosphere had no influence on the personnel working there: they were completely focussed on preparing patient for an intervention. As I had still to learn: with ‘the patient’ they were referring to the medical case, and not necessarily to the person himself – a subtle but crucial difference. more…

can designers save the world?

Risk-avoidance is the topic of concern, even more so, since we do all now fear that the same fait as to those poor people in Japan could happen to us as well. The collective angst, which predominantly finds fertile ground here in Germany, is in line with one of our basic needs – security: we do want the world to work according our desires and vision – safe, in order, fair and fortunate.

That’s why politicians will do everything to ensure us that they can protect this state of heaven – and with that, hope for our vote.

In the meanwhile we know, that whether left or right, green or liberal, all use our angst to drive us voters into their political camp: the insecurity they accordingly address varies from prosperity in an economical sense, to fairness in a social sense, down to safety in an ecological sense. And business does the same, they also promise to take care of all our problems. more…

design driven innovation

Speech held at the Fraunhofer Innovation Forum:

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need innovation to progress.
We need innovation to keep our economic cycle going, which is still based on consuming and renewing.
We need innovation to help us climb the ladder of human needs, on our way to reach the final step… Innovation is there to bring us this advantage: Like a seed it holds the key to continuity. For our economy and society it creates value and prosperity, and in our economic system it‘s a mean to sustain against competition.


please strip!

Have you ever been to an orthopedist, maybe because your knee hurted?

Then it might have occurred to you, as it did to me: you had the diagnosis on the symptom, which was unequivocally identified on the x-ray, but the cause of your problem still remained in the dark.
Once outside, after the clearance, it hurts like before and you still don’t know how to get rid of the pain (but now you might know it’s exact location).
But the orthopedist’s job was thorough: he quickly could find the spot causing the pain thanks to his experience and specialized equipment (in my case a dislocated knee-cap), and then he gives advice on the following step to be taken – we have to operate!



Newton delivered the dominating formula to describe effectiveness in the agricultural and industrial age:

Work = Force x Distance

The more force I apply, the more ‘work’ I get done, hence the more effective I am. The more the distance I use, the more effective I become as well (though this approach might only appeal to a physicist). All this work accumulates into the power that we can perform or generate: because power = work over time.

Where in the past it was crucial to keep the work as low as possible (also because the force was limited and scarce) and therefore rely on longer distances or self-sufficiency, over time work eventually became the sole purpose of our society: the more work that got done, the better-off our society became at large. The effect of all the work done? More power! Especially those in possession of force, or those who were quicker than others, could get more work done and therefore surpass the others. They became more powerful and effective, and therefore they ruled.

If you want to increase the work done ,and at such become more effective, force is the mean that can be increased the best: who really wants to increase the distance? Because that costs time, and limiting time is crucial if you want to increase the power. Where in the agricultural age access to force applied by humans and animals were determining effectiveness, in the industrial age the focus was on increasing force through machines  – machines are most effective, they dramatically increase force and reduce time.

But when eventually the generation of the work reached it’s peak in perfection (the force applied by machines) we turned to reducing time more and more: efficiency creeps in and it is still dominating the improvement of power up to today. In oder to maximize the effect of the work done, our society and businesses turned to maximize the efficiency. That’s why the formula of the industrial business society is like this:

Effectiveness = Means x Efficiency

And that’s why up to today industrial managers are in charge and they focus on what they can do best: increase the efficiency.

In the meantime also processes, systems, technologies and distances, just about everything you can improve through efficiency, have reached their peak as well. An increase in efficiency is marginal these days, so some turn to brute force again, or they try to find other means…

And something else happened: we are leaving the industrial age and now enter the knowledge age. Not only the industrial means are crucial, but foremost the intellectual means available are influencing the effectiveness. The means are now enriched with increased knowledge, so it’s not efficiency that is crucial, but the access to this knowledge.
That’s why the formula of the knowledge society should be:

Effectiveness = Means x Access

So the one that advances today, is the one with access. The dot-com boomers and shrewd bankers understood and just did it like their industrial ancestors  – now they increased the access to increase the effect!
Because in order to increase effectiveness by only increasing the knowledge (the mean) is cumbersome and time consuming, so it’s way easier to increase the efficiency, hum, the access! Access is about being smart, not knowledgeable.
The fact that access led to reward through huge bonuses and incentives, at the expense of the knowledgeable and working people, just seemed the result of the laws of nature: ‘smart’ people just didn’t care, it always has been like this, or?  Effectiveness is for them is the biggest bang for the buck!

Unfortunately these modern business advancers, like their industrial forefathers, have reached the end of their advancement – in the meanwhile everybody is getting smart, thanks to the internet!
What remains is the option to increase the effectiveness by turning to the means again, to the people carrying the knowledge and intellect, the people that work for a company and to those people, for whom the company is working. By focussing on humans, societies and companies can tap into those resources again who by far are not depleted, they were just neglected.

So if companies want to tap into the human potential to increase the effect of what they do, they have to focus on the human side of what they do and how they do it. Here a new thinking can help, one that is different from the thinking that drove the efficiency up, but one that will drive the creativity and imagination up: it needs design thinking and empathy. The challenge here is to leave the newtonian thinking behind, which relates a logical cause to an effect and which is based on deductive reasoning. To increase the effectiveness, we need to start to imagine, to design.

If organizations can embed this thinking in whatever they do, and focus on the human, then they can embrace the challenges of the post-industrial society, where economic progression is related to the effect a proposition has on the individual. In this experience economy you have to focus on the human, focus on making the right things, rather then making things right. To do that you need knowledge and empathy, being smart and efficient is not enough.

That’s why the formula for the design thinking economy is:

Effectivity = Means x Focus

And – do you have a focus yet?


August, 2010.

customer focus

Focus on the customer and the income will follow – an advice that’s common in many business text books. Sounds logical, and it is. If you do focus on the customer and give him what he needs, you should do everything right in order to create a commercial success with whatever your product or service might be. But, who is the customer and how do you know what he really needs? In most cases their needs are not written on their faces, in most cases they themselves do not know what they need, they can only articulate what they want.

In most cases cases the consumer’s needs are driven by a fundamental one, of which there are not too many around: among the few basic ones are security, belonging, stimulation, autonomy or physicality. The latter drives the need for food, but only in combination with some of the other needs, ingestion turns into a restaurant visit: Hello from Maslow!

In our new economy it’s all about the fulfillment of experiences, rather than to secure the more basic requirements of everyday life (to stick with Maslow). Customers in the ‘experience economy’ need to be holistically and simultaneously served in their needs, before they decide on a product or service, and then consume. It’s not longer sufficient to be the cheapest, the smartest or the most competent offer around – it all depends on the experience one provides, and if this experience fits the consumers personality.

This means that designers and developers need empathy, if they want to meet these ‘un-articulated’ needs. They need an antenna to receive the correct signals emitted by the consumers and the market place. Because in the end it are those solutions which sustain and succeed on the market which are able to design and provide an experience in line with consumer’s need.

For the technology-driven industry this opposes a huge challenge, since they produce for the masses and therefore simply do not know their customer annymore – they became to plenty in size, shape, sex and spending power. But nevertheless they need to focus on the customer to whom they address their brand’s promise, in order be authentic. And they need to know the customer or user in order to conceive products and services for them. And this can never be everybody: If you design an experience for everybody, you will fulfill nobodies needs!

In this challenge the high-tech mass-production industry, as well as any small enterprise, can learn a lot from the hospitality business. The quick hunger is served well by a fries-parlor: clear and simple menu, legible from the queue, quick preparation, swift service and low prices. The multiple star restaurant delivers culinary delight within the appropriate ambience and against corresponding prices. Irrelevant how ingestion is turned into a service offer, it is in the experience and the soundness thereof if it’s accepted by the consumer – and delivers the income in a sustainable, profitable way.

And this is a true challenge to industry that’s driven by standardization: so far the marketing experts were using shotguns to hit the market, based on the motto: rather we hit someone, than missing out with a careful shot.

But today you have to focus well and aim on that which delivers a true valuable return: satisfy your (and not anybodies) customers need, deliver an experience for them and with that create a loyal customer base.