Sunday, November 22, 2009

Driving Change through Design

Gentry Underwood, of design stalwart IDEO, spoke to a group of us at the Web 2.0 Conference in New York City about Social Interaction Design, “SxD” as he visually presents it. That’s the official (eye-glazing) description anyway. It’s really about building something that moves people to act.

Of the nine principles that Gentry presented (listed in full at bottom), we found three principles particularly compelling. He was entertaining in presenting them, and we were left thought-provoked and inspired by their implications.

Design for delight
When we’re forced to do something, we do it either begrudgingly or not at all. So, what if what we had to do (or should do) was made fun? That’s the idea behind The Fun Theory. From the global environment to personal health, The Fun Theory is proving that fun, innovative design can make us do those things that make our world and ourselves a better place.

Take the Stockholm subway system. In many stations, the escalator and stairs are right next to each other. Many people take the escalator. The motivator is stronger: easy. But in one station, designers turned the stairs into a piano: Walk one step, play a note (Think classic movie Big). The new motivator – fun – was strong enough to increase the number of people taking the stairs (over the escalator) by 66%.

Just imagine the possibilities. If simple design moved people to take better care of their bodies, what else can it move us to do? What if we applied design to some of our most pressing problems? Terrorism and battlefield insurgencies? Dependence on foreign oil? Healthcare? What barriers might we be able to overcome?

Remember we’re a heard species
At the Sasquatch music festival in George, Washington, a guy danced, by himself, for days. People took video of it. They laughed and scoffed. He continued, unfazed. While many were debating what drug he was on, he danced. He became somewhat of a fixture. He also remained on the fringe. Until something curious happened. After days, another guy joined him – albeit, uncomfortably. In the shadow of his friends’ judging glances, he kept it light, making it clear he was participating in the joke, not becoming part of it, occasionally looking back at his friends, laughing. He left, then came back shortly after, as another joined. Still bare, at three dancers, they continued.

Ultimately, several others joined. Almost immediately, several more. The tipping point reached, screams – of approval – started… and continued. Louder and louder. People started running from where they were to join. Running. What once was uncool, they now couldn't wait to be part of. Within less than a minute, literally hundreds of concert-goers joined, arms in air, reveling in the experience… together. The original guy gets kind of lost, almost forgotten. But there’s no denying he started it all. While people stared, he just carried on, doing what he loved. With that, he started a movement.

Do you ever feel like you’re getting nowhere with your business or your career or your message? This video is a reminder that while it may feel like nobody cares (or perhaps worse, like people are laughing at you), if you believe in what you’re doing – if it just feels right – and you keep at it, then people will likely come around to follow. Seth Godin wrote an entire book on the topic; he called it Tribes.

(Separately, but related, we’re reminded of Gary Hamel’s talk at the World Business Forum: “Explore the fringe,” he strongly advised, “The future always starts there.” Organic foods, personal computers, equal rights – they were all fringe movements until a tipping point was reached and they became mainstream.)

Empower evolution
As humans, we’re creative, resourceful, and adaptive. Whether we have the right tools or not, when we’re committed to making something work, we’ll figure it out and do it... in a way nobody would have thought possible.

Case in point. Bangkok, Thailand. What at first looks like a train rolling through the slums quickly turns into a bustling market. You’ve got to see it to believe it.

This video reminds us that we shouldn't feel discouraged when we lack the tools to do something. It encourages us to figure something out with what we have.

While we’re a herd species, we shouldn’t be underestimated either. We’re capable of extraordinary things. Gentry’s stories tell us that with a little bit of thought, an understanding of what we love, and strong commitment to it, the potential for design to change the way we behave (for the better) is huge.

Gentry's nine priciples in full are:
1. Satisfy key stakeholders
2. Making something mandatory = Bad design
3. Design for delight
4. Simplify as much as you can, but no more
5. Smooth all friction on the path to participation
6. Help the indifferent decide
7. Remember we’re a herd species
8. Watch for unexpected consequences
9. Empower evolution

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