Design is a discipline filled with Philosopher Kings, holders of arcane knowledge who believe we’re uniquely qualified to dazzle the masses stuck in Plato’s cave. We all live in the designed world, and both our moment-to-moment experiences and our most personal conceptions of the self are shaped by the design expression of others; as designers we strive to continuously interrogate our processes and motives to ensure they include rather than exclude, uplift rather than denigrate, and expand personal agency rather than constrain it. Human-centered design supports our work by offering a methodological framework to enhance empathy and bridge gaps between designers and consumers, but this still results in products and services filled with translation errors and missed opportunities. Most designers ultimately still believe we’re Philosopher Kings (even if we’re loathe to admit it), and we still typically live a world away from the personas we so diligently create. This discussion explores the need to turn a human-centered lens upon ourselves, and asks that we reject the designer as Philosopher King model as we rush into a virtual world where our experience of reality is even more comprehensively provided by someone else.
Jason Pace is the Executive Director of the University of Washington Bothell’s Digital Future Lab (http://digitalfuturelab.com/), an interactive media research and commercial game development studio focused on transforming how the technology industry approaches design and diversity. Pace started the lab after spending 16 years at Microsoft leading user experience and product development teams on a number of Microsoft’s consumer products, and his work in the DFL explores how radically diverse teams (teams that intentionally seek to maximize individual differences across a broad spectrum of backgrounds) can lead to unexpected insights, new directions in product development, and increased efficiency. The lab challenges conventional wisdom about pedigree and notions of “culture fit”, bringing undergraduate students together from across majors and schools to create high-performance creative teams engaged in both commercial product development and design research.