Better Products or Better People?

The central dogma of design thinking is “Thou shalt have empathy”. That means we start by understanding the needs of the people we are designing for : not just their explicit needs but (especially, and very importantly) their implicit and latent needs. A framework to classify different needs is Michael Barry’s Use, Usability, Meaning framework.

Inevitably, this leads to better products. As Paul Graham says, make something people want. But here’s the question I have been considering: How can we design better people? How can we design so that people want things that make us a better culture, a better civilization?

In The Lost Interview, Steve Jobs says “The way we’re gonna ratchet up our species is to take the best and spread it around everybody so that everybody grows up with better things and starts to understand the subtlety of these better things”. (Also relevant, Paul Graham essay on taste).

This is a question that needs much reflection and investigation, and I will touch upon this topic many times, but for today, I will share a passage from Kenya Hara’s Designing Design:

Design is like the fruit of a tree.

The soil of design

In product design, vehicles and refrigerators are the fruit. Design functions from the perspective of how to produce good fruit. If you look at the fruit from some distance, you see the next tree that bears the fruit and then the soil in which the tree stands. Important to the whole process of creating good fruit is the condition of the soil. If we’re after good fruit, we must cultivate the soil, though that might seem a roundabout path to the fruit. In our metaphor, the soil corresponds to the market and the “level of desire” of the individuals who make up the market controls the quality of the soil. What matters is the quality of the appetite: what kind of appetite do they have for living?

More good stuff from the Hara Design Institute.

2 thoughts on “Better Products or Better People?

  1. Good thought to start my day Ashish! Thanks for this.

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