By Aaron Heskes

Design is not a linear process. Rather, research, need-finding and incremental product development (via prototyping) all move cyclically to identify a set of problems. These activities all go hand in hand to close in on solutions incrementally.

As we look at the best starting place for the design process, I think it’s important to emphasize that all these processes are repeated several times in the iteration of a design thesis and later of a product.

Since people are always at the center of the problems we’re designing for, it’s best to start by understanding those individuals. A good understanding of who someone is can come through several different lenses, depending on which attributes and behaviors are relevant to the need or task.

For instance, the initial goal might be to make living with type 1 diabetes easier for teenagers. Although it’s a broad goal to start with, it allows the potential solution to take any form. This means that the solution will not be predetermined. If a team were looking specifically into insulin delivery, they might come up with a more specific goal, such as…

“to make the best insulin pen.”

Although this seems like a perfectly fine goal, we can improve it by making the parameters more specific and the scope broader. So, a better goal might be…

”to make the most intuitive insulin delivery system.”

This way, the method of insulin delivery is left open, while the goal of making that system easy for first time users to understand is very specific.

Although we’re labeling personas as a good starting point for the design process through understanding the users, the finished personas in themselves are the result of measurable research and time.

For many first-year undergraduate projects in the studio, Proto-personas suffice as decent guides for the direction of the project. Proto personas are based on secondary research from other people’s conclusions. They offer valid, though general, information on a demographic. Some studies may offer good information, but relying on these sources to develop users and use cases will never bring anything new to the table.

As we’ve begun to discuss how design relies on an understanding of the user’s habits and needs, it’s important to note that marketing teams also make use of these tools to determine the types of customers they are speaking to, and the message they want to send with their product.

What separates a marketing perspective and a design perspective is that a marketing team works backwards. They have a product that they’re trying to sell to a chosen audience. In a way they define the audience, not the product. Marketers may care about demographic information, buying motivations and customer behavior, but it’s not within their depth to care why a customer makes certain decisions.

By contrast, an understanding of these motivations is particularly the insight needed to develop a product thesis. Design personas do not necessarily separate people by age or social views, but rather by ability, means and any other factors that would cause them to have different priorities.

This begins to answer our main question: Where does this solution fit into the user’s life?


So, we know that understanding our user’s behavior and needs is the best way to design a relevant solution, but you’re probably wondering what the best way to collect primary information is to build those personas? That’s coming up next time as we delve into the gritty task of writing, administering and analyzing surveys!

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