December 08, 2014

How I'm Realizing (Almost) Everything is Design

It’s been a couple months now since I began my first term at Ei and things have been really busy. My “major” this year is user experience design, which I’ve learned is a really broad field with many subareas.

As a career pivoter, UX design is a natural path for me given my professional background as a behavioral researcher. My appreciation for smart design (and my confused frustration when I come across poor design) makes it an even more suitable path for me.

One of the core competencies Ei provides training in is human-centered design and design thinking. During our first meetup, we were put through a design sprint. Since then, I have had more experience using the design process to help Ei understand the needs and personas of self-directed learners. Additionally, in my efforts to learn to code this year, I’ve also planned out a website, wireframed it, and built out a MVP using HTML/CSS.

Design is about solving a problem. It’s about getting into the minds of users, figuring out how they think and function, then creating a solution that addresses the problem while considering the users’ context. When thought about this way, I realize that much of my career prior to Ei has been as a designer. But a very different one from ones we typically think of.

The problems I tackled as a professor were destructive health behaviors. My colleagues and I designed interventions to help keep people alive and healthier. The users were some of the most marginalized people in our world: the homeless, the addicted, the unwell—a niche audience, if you will. The context was challenging: abject poverty, crime, lack of education and sociopolitcal capital. One of our main questions was: How might we design interventions to avert incident cases? We used ethnography to understand subcultures, applied social and behavioral theories, studied others’ approaches, and analyzed gigabytes of data to do our best to create programs that would help save lives. This was not easy work.

As I dived into design projects this term, I started to see parallels between my past work and my work at Ei. I started to realize that (almost) everything that surrounds us is a function of the design process: electronics, furniture, clothes, toothbrushes. And, even though I’ve never considered myself a designer, the work I did as a professor was very much design work. The problems I’m tackling and solutions I’m prototyping and creating during my Ei year are very different, but the approaches are similar. I’m excited to expand my design repertoire and apply design thinking to new and interesting problems.

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