In 1992 I wrote a paper called Converging Perspectives: Product Development Research for the 1990's that appeared in the Design Management Journal. For the paper I was asked to describe the current state of design research in practice at a time when the rate of new product failures was very high, around 80%. Instead of describing the current situation, I decided to propose how we could approach design for the 1990's and beyond. It was not about making predictions, but expressing hopes for the future. It is time to look back now and see what has happened since then.
Useful, usable and desirable
The big idea introduced in the paper was that products must be simultaneously useful, usable, and desirable. "A useful product is one that consumers need and will use. A usable product is one they can either use immediately or learn to use readily. A desirable product is one they want to use." (1992)
The useful, usable, and desirable mantra has been picked up by many design practitioners. Today it is often used as the primary goal for the design of human-centered products and services. It is particularly well known by user experience (UX) designers because of Peter Morville's 2004 expansion (Figure 1). Morville's User Experience Honeycomb adds the goals of findable, credible, accessible, and valuable to the core attributes of successful products and services.
Figure 1: User Experience Honeycomb (http://semanticstudios.com/user_experience_design/)
More recently, the model has also found its way into the hands of the business community. A case in point is the Customer Experience Pyramid (2012) (Figure 2) that is presented in the book Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine of Forrester Research. Here, the primary attributes remain the same but have new names. Useful has become "meets needs". Usable became "easy" and desirable became "enjoyable".
Figure 2: The Customer Experience Pyramid (http://outsidein.forrester.com/resources.html)
Are we now designing products and services that are simultaneously useful, usable and desirable? No. I believe that we do know how to address usability and desirability. But we are still working on how to ensure that future products and services will be useful.
So what else has changed since 1992? Have the other proposals for change been acted upon?
Design research takes place throughout the entire design process
"I propose a new approach ... that incorporates research into the entire development process from discovery of consumer/user needs, to development of products addressing those needs, and finally, to delivery of the desired product to the marketplace and ultimately to the consumer and end user." (1992)
Design research is being used throughout the design process today. We can see generative design research taking place in the early front-end in order to determine what to design. We can also see evaluative design research happening later in the process to determine how best to design it.
Converging perspectives are used in design research
"Converging perspectives refers to the use of two or more methods of investigation to approach any product development question." (1992)
Today we see many different methods of design research in use for the design and development of products and services. In fact, there are so many methods for design research that a number of books have been published that simply list and describe them. Today the question is not whether to use design research, but how to choose the methods that are most relevant at each point along the process.
Non-designers are participating in the design process
"The aim of participation is to include and involve consumers in the design process. It changes the role of the consumer in research from passive informant to active participant in the product development process." (1992)
People are active participants in the design and development of both products and services today. Participatory design (also referred to as "co-creation") is here to stay. Because of the internet and social networks, people are not only empowered but also connected in ways that were not even considered earlier. They can ask other consumers about their experiences with products and services before they buy them. They can even design their own products and services. Marketing and advertising have changed to adapt to the participatory mindsets that everyday people now hold and know how to make use of.
New roles for designers have emerged
"Participatory design puts the designer in a new role as the "enabler" of the design process." (1992)
In addition to many other roles, designers today are playing the role of enabler of the design process. They are becoming catalysts of social change, facilitators of collective experiences, and entrepreneurial makers as well.
Where do we go from here?
We have come a long way since 1992. Co-creation with all the stakeholders and across the entire design and development process is today a reality. What will it look like 20 years from now? Perhaps we will be designing products and services that usable, desirable and also useful.
Liz sanders / MakeTools