Thinking About People
IDEO, widely regarded as the best design firm in the world, is precisely that because of one simple truth: they understand people. IDEO approaches its projects first and foremost from the perspective of the person on the other end of everything that they create. They think about people, from start to finish, and build each and everything they do as layers on top of that understanding--driven by what they've learned about the people that they'll have an impact on. IDEO CEO Tim Brown and founder David Kelley refer to this process as 'design thinking' (you can see Tim's recent TED talk here), which builds a central element of human understanding into every step of the process that's designed to create something that will improve the life of the person on the other end of that creation.In exploring things like design, marketing, branding, and social media, the human element is all too often lost in a sea of buzz words and neatly packaged business school strategies. Many (and I would argue most) companies lose focus from the people on the other end of the things that they do and expend too much effort doing the things that they think they should do while, in the process, forgetting almost entirely about what the people on the receiving end actually need.It's fantastic if you run a car company that's just discovered a way to cram thirty three cup-holders into a smart car. But, if your customers don't need thirty three cup-holders and your belief that they should want them causes you to introduce them regardless, you'll not only miss the bigger picture of how your customers are interacting with the things that you create, but you might actually hurt that interaction. A better way to approach the problem is to look at the way that your customers use a cup-holder (if they use it at all) and explore ways to make that experience as out-of-this-world as it can possibly be from the user's perspective. Instead of telling them what they should want, let them show you what they're missing. Find the gaps in their world that are making their lives more difficult than they need to be. Bring them into the equation in a way that explores them, not controls them.At Blend, we tend to have an idea of what we think might work for our clients, but it's our clients' users who really know the answer to the problem. We tend to focus on the latter and inject the former as a creative layer that addresses the needs of those people from a purely human perspective. While not everyone can articulate what they want, the simple process of stepping into their world and watching them opens doors to ideas, creativity, and innovation that would never have been discovered had we simply told them what to do.P&G understands this and, as one of the best consumer-focused companies on the planet, routinely dives into the worlds of its customers to find out how they use things and how their perceptions of the world set the stage for the ways in which they interact with it.When social media was new, it was very easy to be the sole-party dictator of how your campaign would unfold.But, in order to design something that is social in nature, it is imperative that you explore the ways in which the members of your audience think, interact, and take part in the world. If you want to change their world or bring them closer to yours, the only way you're ever going to get there is by truly learning to understand theirs first.