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
19 November 2016
A conversation with Dan Ariely about what shapes our motivations
A professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, Dan Ariely relentlessly examines our assumptions about ourselves—and finds they’re often totally misconstrued. We think, for example, that money is our main motivator in the …
17 November 2016
[Book] Collaborative Ethnography in Business Environments
Collaborative Ethnography in Business Environments Edited by Maryann McCabe Routledge 2017, 138 pages In a global and rapidly changing commercial environment, businesses increasingly use collaborative ethnographic research to understand what motivates their employees and what their customers value. In …
15 November 2016
[Book] Sensemaking
Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm by Christian Madsbjerg Hachette Books March 2017, 256 pages Inspired by his work with companies like Ford and Coca-Cola, Madsbjerg's Sensemaking is a provocative stand against the …
14 November 2016
Billions spent on cyber security tech while human error ignored
Billions spent on cyber security tech while human error ignored, writes Misha Glenny in the Financial Times. Armies of zombie computers threaten us all. Despite the headlines, the cyber security industry has prioritised the development of …
11 November 2016
The cognitive psychologist’s view of UX design
Psychologist and cognitive scientist Dr. Susan Weinschenk explains how her science informs UX design. Weinschenk takes research and knowledge about the brain, the visual system, memory, and motivation and extrapolates ten UX design principles from …
8 November 2016
[Book] Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight
Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight by Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell Harper Business November 2016, 336 pages In this pioneering guide, two business authorities introduce the new discipline of Service …
8 November 2016
Customer delight through service design
The service sector needs to break away from old manufacturing-oriented habits and build great consumer experiences into every facet of its business model, write Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell in strategy+business. Experiences matter. Experiences are …
31 October 2016
IKEA/Economist Group (EIU) study focuses on the new ‘American Dream’ today
Press release - September 21, 2016 Discovering the New American Dream, an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report sponsored by IKEA US shows that the American Dream, which was once outlined by owning a home with a …

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.

1 December 2016
More on upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Last month Putting People First announced the upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities in Nice France. Meanwhile we are pleased to announce the full event agenda (see below). This event will feature professionals from leading research institutes and industry gathering to present key initiatives which combine Energy Efficiency and Service Design […]

29 October 2016
Upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Invitation to the International Conference on Design & Sustainable Innovation for SmartCities Nice (France) 8 December 2016 On the 8th December 2016, the CITYOPT project will host an international conference on Design and sustainable innovation for SmartCities, at the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen, France. An open invitation to attend is offered to people and organisations who […]

28 October 2016
Experientia’s President, Michele Visciòla, panel judge for MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition

The 100&Change is an international competition and a landmark opportunity for thinkers and designers to tackle critical challenges affecting the world. Michele Visciòla will be one of the panel of expert judges who will select which project is worthy of the $100 million grant. 100&Change is the MacArthur Foundation competition – launched this year for […]

5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to “transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.” The article was written by Frank van den Driest and Keith Weed of a […]

29 August 2016
Experientia discussing ethnography and patient-centricity at EPIC 2016

This week Experientia joins our colleagues and peers in Minneapolis at EPIC 2016, the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in industry. The theme for the conference this year is Pathmaking, emphasizing the power of ethnography to create transformative innovation, growth and strategic success for companies, industries and communities. On the second day of […]

22 June 2016
A united energy economy: Experientia helps wrap up the CITYOPT Nice pilot project

Can behavioral change address local energy issues, raise people’s awareness energy consumption issues, and directly support non-profit organizations at the same time? With the Nice pilot of the CITYOPT project, we have seen strong suggestions that it can. It also suggests that the sense of belonging to a local community is a strong motivation for […]

See all articles