In understanding how technologies can support self-fulfillment, and the designer’s role as shaper of perception, we have the opportunity to apply a new perspective to the considerations we make on a daily basis. Here are some principles to follow in designing research methodologies, products, and services that not only facilitate action, but inspire lasting change.
1. Shift Focus
Less “whats,” more “whys.” Design researchers should look beyond behavioral patterns, task analysis, and workflow, into belief systems, values, attitudes, and motivators.
Less practical, more possible. Our inquiry should focus less on what individuals are performing, completing, and obtaining, and more on understanding what they are trying to become, achieve, and create.
2. Baby Steps
Continually visualize the user’s step-by-step transformation. By emphasizing cause and effect, progress, and projected outcomes, designers can motivate individuals to take action. This can also generate the momentum necessary to continue or increase levels of effort.
3. Unveil the Alter Ego
Focus design research on revealing the ideals of achievement imagined by the user. Pay attention to the individual’s fantasies, aspirations, and role models. Understand how close or far from these goals she believes herself to be at any given point.
4. Don’t Objectify, Identify
Empathize with others by drawing upon similarities within your sphere of personal experience. Reflection on personal limitations can shed light on the challenges of others and expose opportunities for overcoming them.
While in the midst of researching and designing tools for diabetes health management, I took up the routine of testing my blood glucose levels and recording my diet and exercise. In doing so, I was able to internalize some of the self-consciousness and emotional discomfort caused by a life of constant self-moderation and discipline. As a result, my designs were more sensitive to the opportunities and demands of this specific lifestyle.
5. Show and Tell
Involve others in the process of an individual’s transformation. Share achievements among members of the wider community and leverage them as competition or support. Highlight the shared experience of failure and re-motivation, in addition to success.
6. Design for Failure
Change is difficult. Expect individuals to have unique emotional and situational influencers that limit their success. Identify, highlight, and disassemble those influences. Also take into account that new ones will arise, and that performance will inevitably plateau. Be prepared to revisit goals regularly.
7. Send in the Experts
Provide users with access to experts for guidance and scaffolding. Those new to change lack the insight and comprehensive vision of more experienced individuals. Experts can guide what users see and do, point out relationships, and explain overarching concepts. By connecting individuals with experts, designers enable users to achieve more than they would on their own.
The question is not whether designers should leverage our skills to help users achieve their personal objectives. Rather, it is which goal we should choose to address with each new project. Change agency offers fascinating insights into the identities and motivations of the people we serve, renders pathways to achievement, and ultimately contributes to the fulfillment of human potential. It is human nature to dream. And it is the designer’s role to help people achieve those dreams.