Agile and human-centered design

What design challenges are we facing today in this rapidly changing environment? New and maturing technologies, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to list a few, presents us with the potential of new products once only conceivable in science fiction.

I’d like to summarise the first chapter of ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman in two parts; human-centred design and principles of interaction. Norman discusses the principles and characteristics of good design, which sits central to any design methodology. I’m very familiar with Agile as a design approach and if you are also, you will see where some of the Agile principles stems from within human-centred design.

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding.

  • Discoverability – is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them?
  • Understanding – what does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings means?

Modern devices offer complexity. As a designer, we strive to design products that remove this complexity and fulfil people’s needs while being understandable and usable. Discoverability and understanding are key characteristics of design, but to use these effectively designers need a deep understanding of the people who use the product.

Design presents a fascinating interplay of technology and psychology, that the designers must understand both.

Human-centered design

Each new development seems to repeat the mistakes of the earlier ones; each new field requires time before it, too, adopts the principles of good design… and each new invention of technology… requires experimentation and study before the principles of good design can be fully integrated into practice.

We are seeing this with VR and AR. The VR and AR fields are currently in an experimental phase, at the same time, designers are exploring what best practice could look like.

Human-centered design is a design philosophy, an ‘approach that puts human needs, capabilities and behavior first’ (Norman).

It starts with a good understanding of people and the needs that design intended to meet.

This is done through rapid tests of ideas, and after each test modifying the approach and the problem definition.

The rapid testing of ideas echoes the Agile approach to design. Agile is an iterative process of rapid development, testing and, based on the outcomes of the testing, modifying the design where required to help meet the needs of the user. In the next post I will discuss the principles of interaction. Understanding these principles will help us gain a better insight into the user.