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When Good Design Isn't The Right Approach

link to original storyMar 14, 2017
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Kentaro Toyama, author of Geek Heresy and professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, recently visited DePaul University in Chicago to give a talk called “What if good design isn’t enough?” His talk centered on two core points:


  1. technology amplifies human behavior; and
  2. design for social impact differs from mainstream design in its focus on collective needs over individual needs, and on changing rather than accommodating behavior.

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What was most interesting to me about Toyama’s talk, though, was his delineation of “mainstream” design from “design for social impact.” Toyama argues that traditional schools of design, including existing design schools, is about “solving external problems so things are easier for people without any change on their part,” whereas social change “requires causing changes in people, often requiring hard work on their part, much of which is internal in nature.” Toyama asserts that traditional design is far too focused on accommodating people in their existing ways, and is focused on the individual as opposed to the collective (think Human-Centered Design.) If we want to address global socioeconomic problems like poverty, he says, it’s not enough to design sleek, innovative tools without effecting change. He suggests that design for social impact could require some user pain points, which effectively breaks a fundamental law of good design: avoid user frustration; deliver user pleasure.

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