Fuse Focus: Maintaining Design’s Value in Modern Society

(October 19, 2018) – A clear focus on the warfighter (our primary end user) is a driving motivation behind everything Fuse does. Ashley captures the essence of this focus in her discussion of design thinking, user-centered design, and human-centered design.

As discussed in our last Fuse Focus, “Design Thinking in Practice,” the collaborative—and notably multidisciplinary—design strategy known as design thinking has changed the way products and systems are designed and deployed. Through design thinking, key design process elements including observation, prototyping, iteration, testing, and feedback are added to the traditional world of product and service development. It has renewed the cause of customer satisfaction in a staunch, linear business world—or at least those businesses that actively subscribe and practice its values—by refocusing attention on user empathy, feedback, and continuous iteration and improvement. It should come as no surprise that greater customer satisfaction tends to arise when businesses make products, services, and experiences with an eye toward their users, and although attention to user satisfaction has bubbled up as a point of pride for businesses in the past, there has not been such a process toward working to attain it as design thinking.

Photo of Fuse team members in a meeting.

At Fuse, all team members are encouraged to participate in the design thinking process. Teamwork, collaboration, and communication are highly valued.

This is a relatively new approach to production and it can definitely be seen as a reflection of our culture. Society has continued to further embrace values that emphasize technology, access, collaboration, communication, convenience, immediacy, and efficiency. There also seems to be greater importance placed on social interaction (digital), a desire for empathy and understanding, and a fascination with improvement and self-improvement. With faster, newer, and more improved technologies, people have the ability to communicate, understand, learn, and create more than ever before. These values have likewise been reflected in product development in the form of a greater focus on design and user experience.

As design welcomes other disciplines and more hands to take part and add diversity and other important knowledge to the process, the designers, design thinkers, and the businesses using these terms should be careful to represent and communicate design in a way that continues to impart its value. If we do not understand and cannot differentiate between terms used to communicate design, it only becomes harder for our clients, customers, and audience to do the same. In the worst case, if design terms are used indiscriminately and without care for their actual meaning, today’s fast-moving consumers will quickly write them off as meaningless proclamations and buzzwords.

In particular, what about design thinking, user-focused design, and human-centered design? These important terms are more frequently used to signify and differentiate businesses who are paying attention to consumer needs and may be starting to seem to some as hot phrases used by businesses jumping on the design and experience bandwagon. They are indeed distinct terms that could be easily and mistakenly used as synonyms. While in definition the differences are short and simple, in concept the differences are very important and can be used to help differentiate the strategy of one business from another. We need to consider these differences when trying to select which words best describe how we are paying attention to our users and applying design techniques.

Design thinking is a strategy that is distilled to focus on a certain set of design techniques and is a term with a broad or undesignated audience. It is rather open ended and broad on purpose because the emphasis of this term is on the overall benefit of its usefulness and accessibility as a flexible strategy for navigating problem solving. The targeted audience could include users, clients, customers, experts, or some other general audience of people. The implication is that those using design thinking as a strategy will have a group with which they will empathize.

In contrast, user-focused design, human-centered design, and Fuse’s “warfighter-focused design” are terms that focus less on a designated design process, instead favoring to emphasize a group to empathize with, study, and advocate for. User-focused design, also known as user-centered design, is the most broad in scope of the three terms. “User” distinctly refers to actual users of the product, service, or experience as opposed to an audience, client, or other party, and could include humans, animals, or robots depending on the product or service. More narrow in scope, human-centered design focuses on the unique needs and requirements of human users, including physical, psychological, and cognitive limitations. A motorcycle, for example, would ideally be tailored to comfortably seat a human rider, taking into account average or expected body proportions, mass, and efficiencies that could be gained from those measurements. Warfighter-focused design, a variation that Fuse uses to differentiate itself and its dedication to advancing warfighter capabilities, emphasizes our specific attention to addressing the unique needs and missions of military and first responder personnel. While these terms do not necessarily signify the use of design thinking, they do indicate a focused, scientific design process, and can also still be used in tandem with design thinking. These terms can offer consumers and audiences a glimpse into production processes and describe a level of commitment and value when they are used with intention.

By welcoming design thinking strategies and a focus on empathy towards users, clients, customers, and audiences, businesses around the world are showing that they see value in the application of design in business strategy. It is highly important now and into the future that the Fuse team and others that wish to truly and naturally resonate with their audiences and users continue to advance their creative processes. It is also just as important to carefully and thoughtfully communicate design strategies to educate and inform others of what and how designers and design thinkers do what we do: work hard to create solutions that users gladly use and appreciate. Our modern acceptance and willingness to focus on the user is clearly improving the lives of clients and users across society. Committing to design, and sharing insights and best practices of design thinking, user-focused, and human-centered design will further improve user satisfaction across industries.

About the Author

Ashley is the Lead Graphic Designer at Fuse guiding user experience and user interface design with a forward-leaning aesthetic, as well as shaping the Fuse brand, our communications tools, and processes. Outside of work, she enjoys exploring San Diego with her family, takes care of her many indoor and outdoor plants, and is learning to swing dance.