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Design for the Human Body, Mind, and Heart


Designing for humans is a complicated undertaking. Humans are different in shape and size, they each see the world differently, have different needs, wants and desires, and most often make purchasing decisions based on gut reactions and/or emotional desires. Whether you’re creating an innovative product or designing a new brand, understanding those who will purchase and love your creation is critically important. The question becomes – “How does a brand, product (or service) development team proceed with so many variables?” The industrial design process puts humans at the centre of developmental thinking. Known as human-centric design, this approach helps navigate and strategize a robust and compelling outcome. Ultimately, a new creation should fit the body, mind and heart. There are several areas of discipline with the context of designing for humans. Human factors, or ergonomics, look at both the physical dimensions of humans and the nature in which humans perceive the objects around them. Wikipedia defines a human factor as a “physical or cognitive property of an individual or social behaviour specific to humans that may influence the functioning of technological systems”. Many products need to fit a broad range of users but should be easy to relate to and understand. Complementary to ergonomics is the examination of the cultural, social and psychological aspects of humans and the products they use. Ethnographic research paired with insightful socio-cultural (human) analysis provides clarity to new product creation and can drive many aspects of innovation. Good ethnographic research uncovers human motivations regarding purchasing and define unmet needs.

The Body and the Mind

Traditionally, ergonomic challenges dealt with physical products and their relationship with the physical human body. Whether it was a large product like the driver’s cockpit in a car or a small one like a TV remote control, the physical dimension needed to “fit” and be understood. As products became more complex and with the widespread adoption of software tools, defining a great human-factor experience became, in many ways, more challenging. The designer must understand how it is to be used, and speculate on the sophistication of the user as well as the nature of the system that is to be created or enhanced. Tools of the trade include mapping out a user-based “frame of reference”, charting the use-cycle from start to finish and referencing human factors resources. As with all things ‘human’, a great solution should fit both body and mind.

The Heart and the Mind

A product or service may be suitable for the body and the mind, but, as we know, the heart is a strong decision-maker. Understanding the users’ needs and motivations help clarify the purpose of the product and drive its creation from the ground up. Ethnographic research engages with and observes users within the real world. Studying real humans in their natural habitat gives a rich perspective on life. Gathering information is the first step; proper analysis comes next to make it actionable. Skilled qualitative researchers find relevant patterns to provide meaning based on human socio-cultural expertise. These human-centric design tools can be used separately or together but are most effective when done in concert with each other. Whether you are improving your current product/service/ brand or creating something new, understanding humans can be great for business! (This article was originally published in Design Product News, January 2014)

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