How Your Morning Coffee Can Make You a Better Designer

Becoming a better designer is similar to getting physically fit. You need to exercise regularly in order to strengthen your muscles. Even if you...

Becoming a better designer is similar to getting physically fit. You need to exercise regularly in order to strengthen your muscles. Even if you didn’t go to design school, you’ll be surprised at how much impact you can have when you incorporate a few simple design skills into your life.

First, make a conscious effort to study an everyday activity. For instance, maybe the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning is go next door to buy a coffee. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Do you need the extra caffeine or were you just too busy getting ready for the day to make coffee before your commute? By stopping to notice what you do and ask why you’re doing it, you’re sharpening your observation skills and coming up with insights about your behavior. Armed with these insights, you can start designing solutions—say, asking your partner to take care of walking the dog so you have time to enjoy a cup of coffee at home.
As you practice basic design, you can also look beyond your own habits and think about solutions for others. If you’re having friends over for drinks or dinner, you can design the experience for them. How can you bring people together in a different way, or help them appreciate something different about each other? How could you give them a different experience with the food itself? We tend to do these everyday things without applying a lot of thought to them. Conscious observation, followed by iterating and testing potential solutions, can transform activities we take for granted.
IDEO designers use this same set of skills on projects. When Bank of America asked us to help design a new banking service, we went into people’s homes to understand how saving money figured into the lives of ordinary Americans. We found that all people want to save more, but only a few are really successful at it. At the same time, we saw many people doing unconscious things like overpaying their utility bills or tossing spare charge in a jar to get ahead. Building on these everyday behaviors, we created a service called “Keep the Change,” which automatically rounds up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference into the customer’s savings account.
Design, at its simplest, is about being intentional about the things we do and creating impact in the world. Whether it’s redesigning your morning routine or helping 2.5 million save for a rainy day, it’s still design. Feeling like you've made a difference makes all the hours spent exercising your design muscles worth it.

Image courtesy of IDEO

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