1. Learning about people’s behavior
Behavior is fertile ground for design. Not just human behavior, but systems behavior: social, technical, environmental, political, and economic systems. Increasingly, we are faced with ill-defined problems that are related to the workings of entire systems. Long gone are isolated problems (and opportunities).
Understanding behavior gives designers at least two important kinds of insight. First, it provides a sense of action in the world, which can lead to empathy. For example, how does a patient go about finding his or her way to the radiology lab at a hospital for a first cancer treatment, and what is that way-finding experience like? Second, understanding behavior provides some clues about practices and patterns. For instance, many cancer patients at certain clinics memorize their medical record number in order to get treatment, and those numbers can be tied to schedules, appointment locations, and treatment plans.
What is culture and why does it matter to designers? Isn’t culture kind of a fuzzy concept that is always changing? Yes, and because its elements are so deeply familiar and obvious to us we often don’t recognize them as contributing to “culture” at all.
Yet culture is another important system when it comes to understanding design because it deals with the relationships we build between each other, our things, our routines, our view of the the world, and our beliefs. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined culture as consisting of “Webs of significance that man himself has spun…and the analysis of it [should] be not an experimental science in search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning.” Asking simple questions about obvious things can lead to unexpected answers and rich insights.
A designer can reflect on these insights and use them to influence certain nuances in their designs. For example, using the metadata associated with a cancer patient’s medical record number, such as appointments, schedules, maps, and customized directions of the hospital, adds meaning to a simple and common interaction at a hospital–getting directions. Placing a pathway on the ground to follow enables those same patients, who might often be self-conscious of their bald heads after treatment, to navigate very social environments without having to process the stares of other visitors.
Article written by JON FREACH is design research director at frog. He has a 14-year background in user experience research and interaction design, and his writing has appeared in design mind and Interactions magazine. He lives and works in Austin.