Turning ideas into products with real impact: a people-centred approach to design

Keir HainesKeir Haines, Senior Product Designer at Designability, oversees our new product development and is actively involved in our consultancy work, delivering people-centred design services to other companies. He is passionate about understanding ‘who’ you are designing for in order to design great products that people will enjoy using.

The approach we take to design helps to ensure that we can transform good ideas into products that will have a real impact on people’s lives. So it’s not surprising to know that central to our work at Designability are the people that will use and benefit from the products that we design.

Our design process has three core elements:

  1. Engaging and understanding people – Does the solution fit their needs? Is the product easy to use? Is the product desirable?
  2. Good design – Does the product look great? Is the product functional? Is it well made, reliable and sustainable?
  3. And finally, business – Is the product commercially viable? Is there a market for the product and people who can deliver it? Is the product an attractive opportunity for manufacturers and retailers?

Of these three core elements, people are kept at the heart of the whole design and development process and we use what we call people-centred design.

Understanding people’s lives

People’s needs, views, feelings and reactions are really important to us and, without this input, we don’t feel we can make really great products that will change lives.

Whether it is a fundamental design feature or a tiny detail in the instruction book, we want to ensure we get it right, so we ask people what they think of our work. We listen, share, test ideas, and seek criticism from people who will use and support our products.

I refer to ‘people’ here in the broadest sense; we talk to the people that will use the product and also talk to their carers, health professionals, clinical experts, manufacturers and retailers. We approach every group that will be involved in the delivery, use and support of the product. Each of their perspectives are important to us.

At the outset of each project we determine who these people are and ensure we involve them in our design process every step of the way.

It is important to emphasise that all these people are ‘partners’…. we are not designing by committee by asking each person what they want and then trying to fit all these ideas into a single solution.

Engaging with people that will use the product is about understanding their lives and listening to their stories. It is then our job as designers and engineers to interpret this input, gather insights and come up with usable solutions that will fit into their lifestyles. That is where our knowledge and expertise can make the most difference.

As Henry Ford once said:

“If I’d asked my customers what they had wanted they would have said a faster horse”

We make sure we speak to people early on in the design process, rather than as an afterthought, and we find they feel valued by the team and want to contribute. We listen first and come back with ideas and solutions later.

Designing, testing, improving

When developing Wizzybug we worked with children, families and experts throughout an iterative design process. We had three advisory therapists on the project and we asked people what the important features would be for them and what they would like.

We continued to engage with these people and got them to test the prototypes and products as it evolved. Designing, testing, improving, until we got it right…seeking input from people who really understood the challenges.

User testing is really important to prove feasibility and commercial viability too. It’s not just a question of does it function but, is it acceptable? Desirable? Will it fit into people’s lives? We want to give people the ultimate experience of any product that they use. Be excited, inspired and really make a difference through design.

For me good design is about; understanding the market/need, engaging people, researching, testing often, gaining knowledge, creating memorable experiences and building great looking products.

This can take time, but it ensures a successful product that real people can use and benefit from.

The proof is in the product

The process of design is also as much about what not to include in the final product. There is a temptation to add too much functionality, but we are passionate about simple, reliable, usable and engaging products.

When developing products for people with disabilities and long term health problems, we believe involving them in the design process leads to better outcomes. We only have to refer to the success of our products and the feedback we get for proof that it works.

Keir led the design team on the Design Together, Live Better challenge last year which asked members of the public to share their daily experiences of living with a challenging health condition.

Designability are inviting people living with dementia and their relatives to visit them at The Alzheimer’s Show on 10-11 June at Olympia, London to offer their thoughts and ideas for products that could make life easier.

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