From Me to We – The shift from Humans to Humanity
Atmaja Patel /
Zomato had been my go-to app during the lockdown, I used to order almost every day, but one day I realized that they suddenly stopped sending cutlery with all orders. After some research, I found a survey conducted by zomato, which said that 90% of the customers never required plastic cutlery. So the cutlery, which was once a default add-on, is now something you have to click to add, and the users have to ask explicitly. It was one small step towards climate-conscious delivery, which won’t just make the users happy as the cutlery won’t pile up at home but also help the environment in the long run. This acted as a catalyst for me to start looking around and find such small interventions taken recently by companies.
Over the years, designs have done an incredible job of evolving to address the daily problems of the users, which led to some of the most significant innovations, from touchscreen phones to self-driven cars. As designers, we are all wired to fulfill users’ needs and improve their lives, and we crave the instant gratifications and ease of life it gives. We focus on understanding the user’s perspective, their problem, their needs, and whether the solution designed is effectively meeting their requirements. This approach to solving human problems is called Human-centered design (HCD). It involves users at all steps, and they are at the core throughout the process of solving the problem. The main essence of Human-centered design is deep empathy toward the users.
This method is predominantly used by all companies and consultancy nowadays. From Spotify, changing the way music streaming industry works and how everyone perceives music. They did it by empathizing with the user’s struggle with music streaming apps. Even Duolingo, the one language learning app that everyone uses at some point, they used gamification and animations that got users motivated to learn more languages. The way we and the world works right now is very different from a few decades ago; this is due to the incorporation of the Human-centered design process.
But wait, have we ever given a thought about the future we are creating for ourselves?
Unaware of the long-term consequences, we are so focused on solving users’ problems that we miss out on the implications of the solutions. Our design process tells us to understand and empathize with the user, but what about the other aspects that get affected by our design decisions?
Is fulfilling human needs & wants enough for human survival in the future?
Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
For decades we have been designing and improving many people’s lives, but in that process, are we addressing real-world problems? Real-world problems, as in the wicked interconnected systemic problems that shakes up our existence and threaten our long-term survival. It’s like a wildfire, and while trying to contain one side of the fire, another square kilometer has burnt already.
Human-centered design is not designed to solve systemic problems. It’s about focusing on human problems, and these problems don’t exist alone; they are a piece of a much bigger puzzle. While concentrating on solving and fostering human needs, we are narrowing our vision as designers. That’s when we need to look at the bigger picture, Humanity, Climate change, Poverty, Hunger, Environmental degradation, Health and well-being, and Inequality.
Its time to change the focus, perspective, and approach from humans to “humanity.” This holistic approach is called the Humanity centered design, which considers the entire life cycle of the product or service and its long-term impact. It does not just look at human needs and problems but also the long-term outcomes. When Human-centered design is integrated with system thinking, it gives birth to Humanity centered design. It’s time we shift our mindsets to open up a much-needed system-thinking perspective before we pile up the world with more products that affect it later.
From Zomato removing their default plastic cutlery option and increasing bicycle deliveries to Amazon consciously reusing the plastics and giving users options to return their cardboard packages, some companies are slowly taking baby steps towards humanity-centered design.
Overall, both human-centered and humanity-centered design focus on the needs and well-being of people, but the humanity-centered design takes a more holistic and empathic approach, considering the social, cultural, and emotional aspects of the human experience. And here are a few points to keep in mind while designing humanity centered solution.
1. Everything is connected –
Just look around; everything around you is a system, ranging from our human body to government, economy, agriculture, and many more. Therefore considering the whole as a system is essential when tackling wicked problems like climate change, hunger, poverty, and poor sanitation. When dealing with such complex interconnected issues, system thinking is the key to solving them. It helps us to look beyond the design brief. It also exposes us to the root cause of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms superficially for the time being.
2. Look beyond an individual –
While looking at everything as a system and tackling complex issues, designers should still remember the user. We must design products for people as a part of a larger society—humans not as individuals but as a part of a more extensive system. One key aspect of the humanity-centered design is the idea of co-creation, in which we work closely with users to co-design solutions that meet their needs and expectations. Working and interacting with them will help us understand the true nature of the issue and will help differentiate between their needs and wants while observing them. This approach will help ensure that the final product or service is relevant, meaningful, and user-friendly.
3. From linear to circular –
We currently use a linear design process; we empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. We find the problem, design a product, and then it goes to waste. This is when circular design comes to help. It pushes us to design modular and adaptable solutions to meet changing user needs and preferences rather than being replaced with newer versions. Designing products and systems which are regenerative and restorative. Incorporating features that encourage the reuse, recycling, and repurposing of resources create closed-loop systems that minimize waste and maximize the use of resources. The circular design is not a new concept it was first seen during Romans, Greek and even in the Bronze age; it’s how all the ecosystems worked until humans started making modern civilization.
4. Small interventions for more significant problems –
Every day we make choices that affect our lives, the environment, the climate, and many others, as everything around us is connected. As designers, we need to check what works and what makes our designs closer to sustainable living. Adding small steps and learning from feedback can help improve our plans and the surroundings. Keeping in mind inclusivity, social impact, accessibility, and sustainability while designing can significantly effect positive change and simultaneously, make a difference through these small steps.
The main drawback of humanity-centered design is that the results won’t be seen immediately, but we need to start somewhere, right? It might take ages to see the outcomes, but the ultimate goal of a better future must be kept in mind while designing any digital service or physical product. It doesn’t always need to be a change in the main product or service; it can even be a change in a smaller part of the overall system.
So, let’s take these small systemic changes to create a better future for us.