4 January 2009

People-centred design in times of frugality

Be the first to share

community
What are the profound socio-cultural changes currently taking place and are people-centred designers well equipped to help companies and institutions address this new context?

The current economic recession is turning out to be very severe (The Guardian evokes the spectre of a 1930s-style depression), with rich countries being the biggest losers, and this slowly unfolding reality will drastically transform our societies and our lifestyles, our values and our choices.

In a recent article on the cultural shift currently taking place in the US, Paul Harris paints a dire picture. But he also starts defining the values that define our new world: a rejection of luxury and excess replaced by a new sense of frugalism (which doesn’t necessarily mean quality), a renewed attention on the lives of ordinary people, a greater focus on community and an end to individualism as the dominant cultural, social and economic idea.

“America,” he says, “now is more frugal, less consumerist and more community-minded. But it is also poorer, angry and afraid.”

Reflecting on this from a European perspective, where communities are traditionally stronger, as is the role of government and the public sphere, I can see the following seven clusters of values taking shape:

  • A shift in the price/value balance when buying products or services. An entirely different logic comes into play now. When people are tight with money, they want their basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) to be addressed in the cheapest possible way, whereas other higher level acquisitions are only done when the vendor can guarantee security, durability and long-term value. This applies also to corporate purchases. The throw-away culture is grinding to a halt;
     
  • A shift in needs: what seemed liked needs just half a year ago, are no longer perceived as such. There is a back to basics and a no frills culture, but it is not yet clear what that might imply on a larger scale, as things are evolving quicly and little research exists;
     
  • A renewed focus on people’s physical community: your neighbourhood, town, core friends and family – the people who are always there and can help you out if needed. You look for company when you are in trouble;
     
  • When people are spending more times in their physical communities, their demands for good infrastructure, housing, city planning, transit and energy are bound to increase, and these will need to be met by various Public Works-like public programmes;
     
  • But it’s not just the hardware that matters. There will also be an increased demand on public institutions to deliver good services. The excesses of politicians and public servants are no longer tolerated during times of scarcity. People will demand effective policy making, good public administration, and little waste of their tax money. Many politicians, too steeped in their world of political games, have not yet understood this. Friction is bound to occur. Social and service design are bound to increase (read this article by Alice Rawsthorn);
     
  • Increased demand on companies: companies will have to listen more and help people achieve their goals. Modesty and long term commitment are more important than ever (which is surprisingly similar to the discourse one can hear in emerging markets);
     
  • A fundamental questioning of the growth paradigm: the paradigm of everlasting growth in a limited ecosystem has proven to be a fallacy. Most people – who see their real incomes decline and an environment in increasing disrepair – are not hard to convince of this. What this will imply, remains to be determined and invented, but changes are bound to be dramatic. The Slow Food movement provides one possible way of looking at the future, but also they will need to become less elitist and more down-to-earth.

Understanding this new context, these new (or old) values and needs, and helping companies and institutions to create products and services that address them, is the job of people who do people-centred design.

Each of the seven clusters above provide opportunities for down to earth companies who care about the people that buy what they create, and to public institutions that have a serious commitment to their constituents.

We, people-centred designers, will need to reinvent our trade. We will have to create a sharp vision, a fresh methodology, a bare bones consultancy model, and a clear value proposition within this new context.

We often pride ourselves on understanding the needs and contexts of people and helping companies to design products and services around them. This approach is now more needed that ever, but needs and contexts have changed tremendously. Can we deliver on this new challenge?

Probably not all of us, but our basic paradigm is strong and more relevant than ever.

More predictions:
Michael Bierut
Rachel Hinman
Brandon Schauer
Lee Shupp
Bruce Sterling

Be the first to share
15 April 2015
The woes of a corporate anthropologist [Novel]
Satin Island: A novel by Tom McCarthy Knopf, 2015 From the author of Remainder and C (short-listed for the Man Booker Prize), and a winner of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, comes Satin Island, an unnerving novel that promises …
10 April 2015
We are citizens, not mere physical masses of data for harvesting
The deal we have struck with the information society over the extent to which our lives are shaped and our privacy invaded requires urgent renegotiation, argues law professor Julie E Cohen at the annual Law …
7 April 2015
[Book] Practical Empathy
Practical Empathy: For Collaboration and Creativity in Your Work by Indi Young Rosenfeld Media, 2015 Synopsis Conventional product development focuses on the solution. Empathy is a mindset that focuses on people, helping you to understand their thinking patterns and …
7 April 2015
Bosch uses UX approach to spark enthusiasm for electric driving
Bosch, the German multinational engineering and electronics company, is applying a UX approach to help spark enthusiasm for electric driving, and to develop a "fascinating" user interface for electric vehicles. The project website consists of three …
3 April 2015
Design prototypes for Nairobi, Kenya
In 2014, Ericsson and UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) entered a three-year partnership with the intention to collaborate around Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and sustainable urbanization. One of the first explorations was driven by …
3 April 2015
Opportunities for UX innovation in wearables
Until developers of wearable devices get the user experience down pat, the technology will struggle to gain adoption, writes Steve McPhilliamy on Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry (MDDI). "Understanding user behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles is the …
3 April 2015
Automotive sales could grow 24% if retail experience improved
New ethnographic and quantitative research from DrivingSales identifies how the growing gap between consumer expectations and the current automotive buying process is suppressing car sales volume. Automotive sales could grow up to 24% if the retail …
30 March 2015
MIT Technology Review special report on persuasive technology
The MIT Technology Review has just published a special business report on persuasive technology, i.e. how technologies from smartphones to social media are used to influence our tastes, behavior, and even habits. Free registration is …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
21 December 2014
Experientia’s Twitter feed live

Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]

19 December 2014
Putting People First blog redesigned

Experientia’s Putting People First blog has been redesigned. It is now entirely responsive, allows for easier browsing, searching, and filtering, and features larger images on the posts. The entire history of posts remains accessible as before. We are still tweaking things and welcome any feedback.

27 November 2014
Why the world needs anthropologists – an update

Why the world needs anthropologists – Coming out of the ivory tower Location: Padua, Italy, Centro Culturale Altinate/San Gaetano Date and time: Friday, 5 December 2014, 13:00 – 18:00 Padua, Italy, 5 December 2014 – The second edition of the international symposium of applied anthropologists attempts to erase the boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ anthropology, […]

30 October 2014
The BancoSmart ATM by Experientia for UniCredit selected for ADI Design Index

Last year Experientia designed the interface of an ATM of UniCredit, a major Italian bank. The interface is now rolled out across the bank’s ATMs in Italy, to great satisfaction of the bank and the customers alike, since interaction speed is much faster and error rates went down dramatically. Last year UniCredit and Experientia also […]

See all articles