Encode (Empathy and Collaboration design) by Gabriel Alves
How to keep everyone involved happy and productive? How to transform insights into alternatives? How to be both empathetic to people and their needs and strategic in the choice of solutions? There is a fundamental difference between simply trying to solve a problem previously framed and taking a step back and defining it. When the Designer simply answers to question previously made by someone else, he is assuming a product-oriented process since he will only be responding to a framed stimulus brought to him by a client or an intermediate part. When an interdisciplinary team joins forces alongside the client with the necessary openness of mind in order to find what the real needs are before trying to find a solution, the focus shifts to a process-orientated project.
Only then the “whys” become bigger than what is the “solution” yet to be defined. In volume 2 of the book, Alves offers a “toolkit”, a step-by-step outline explaining just how to engage in this seemingly simple but actually quite complex process. Encode reveals itself as a methodology created based on both his career experiences and deep research on vanguard companies and important thinkers. The goal is to provide creative professionals with a valuable tools to achieve Empathy and enhance the quality of solutions through the exploration of Co-design and Strategic thinking.
If creativity lies in the Uncomfortableness, in the exploration of Unfamiliarity, what role does Familiarity play in the process of Creation? A vital one. Consider that after being openly exposed to an object of study and creating a unique connection free from preconceptions, the Creative must then bring to the table all his background (Step 3: Remember, from the “Creative process for an always-novel mind”). “Remembering” is exactly bringing familiarity to play: the designer’s influences, skills, techniques, contemporary trends, personal experi-ence and aesthetics… Familiarity is everything that forms your pool of knowledge and experience, and for this reason, is called the “Creative Comfort Zone”. The bigger this zone is, the more pieces the Designer has to play with, the more connections are possible to be made, and consequently, the better the outcome of the work will be. Curiously, one can only improve his “Creative Comfort Zone” by exploring what’s outside of it. When a Designer adventures in Uncomfortableness, he will inevitably be exposed to unfamiliarity: new experiences, new knowledge, new sensations, new techniques and eventually, he may even conceive a novel idea, which will eventually become part of his Familiarity, too.
I call this “The Creative Phagocytosis” because I believe that the movement of this “group” of knowledge that we have behaves like a cell, devouring what’s around it, absorbing it to become part of the group. But there’s also another interesting fact about thecomportment of this pool of Familiarity that can berelated to the cell behavior: once a new object is incorporated into the cell, it grows bigger, as wellas the area that touches and reacts to the environment, improving its capacity to feed, since a cell canonly incorporate something that is surrounding it. Relating this to the creative process, the more you know the more you can discover. The larger the “area” of your familiarity, the larger the area of Unfamiliarity you touch, leading to a superior number of opportunities for exploration, novelty and growth. Needless to say, the bigger the “Comfort Zone”, the harder it is to explore what’s out of it. Roger von Oech notes, “As people grow older, they becomeprisoners of familiarity”, simply because we tend to rely on the things we know and understand, instead of taking risks outside this area. Novelty needs Uncomfortableness: if we do not bring something from outside our Familiarity into a project, we will be working with the same materials as before, which will ultimately result in an already visited and obsolete outcome. Another interesting observation that can be made from this metaphor is that everything that is novel today will inevitably be part of the familiar universe tomorrow.
THE IDEAL PROJECT
The ideal project must fulfill five goals: authenticity, originality, practicality, consistency, and fascination.
Originality: I believe that for any Design product to be authentic it needs to achieve two main things, originality and personhood: originality in the sense that the public needs to see how innovative and fresh the idea is. If it is perceived as a remake of something else, it will lose value and attention; on the other hand, if a project is portrayed as new and innovative, it will stand out from its competition.
Authenticity: But the message must also have a sense of personhood; it needs to successfully translate both the organization’s vision and the public needsinto a service/piece. The public must recognize themselves in the project; they need to see that this specific solution was made for them, and the only way to create this authentic identification is by creating a product that has purpose, that truly corresponds to community/ user needs or aims.
Fascination: If we can’t create fascination in our public, we will lose them before they are actually involved with the project. Fitting right communication techniques, experiences and aesthetics cancreate fascination. A beautifully designed magazine will certainly draw more attention than a messy one, a modern clean website can create this sense of reliability and innovation, a funny advertisement can stay in our memory much longer, a mysterious poster can stand out, and so on. How fascinating can a product/ service/company be? How can we take advantage of opportunities of communication to create remarkable experiences that will bring users/customers back? I believe that fascination has a direct relationship to human emotions, and its creation depends on the level of connection we make with both the public and the project, since we need to know our audience very well to be able to understand which strategies are best to create such fascination.
Consistency: How true is the story we are telling the public? Consistency is the validation of the communication through real experience. Imagine a sports car that has the most amazing advertisement communicating its performance, an astonishing design that stands out from its competition and everything needed for this product to create great fascination, but has serious mechanical problems. If the experience of using the product/service is not consistent with its perceived identity, it will cause great damage to its image. The consumers/users will feel tricked and this bad marketing will spread quickly. Designers must be extremely careful to make sure that our projects’ “promises” fit their capabilities. Another thing to be considered regarding consistency is how connected to our public and our client our created identity is. For example, designing the most organized, clean, beautifully formatted magazine for a gossip publication may not be the best fit. To build a solid bridge we need to remain consistent to the product, the vision and the identity in every small arm of communication, and that means everything, from the aesthetics of editorial design to the behaviors of workers in Client Services.
Practicality: The purpose of a bridge is to take what’s on point A to point B quickly and safely. I believe the purpose of the designer is the same: we are hired by an organization to identify a problem and create a solution A to a need B of a community, or to take a certain information about a Product A to a Public B, or to bring a company A close to its clients B. That being said, as designers, it’s our job to make these connections with the least interference possible. It’s our responsibility, for example, when designing a website, to make it accessible and easy to use, and to display organized information. It’s our job to develop a communication/ service system that works well, that shows easy information, that is accessible and that respects the constraints of each public.
THE WILLINGNESS TO ASK
Design thinking is also the ability to formulate questions, even when only answers are required. Tim Brown states, “There’s nothing more frustrating than coming up with the answer to the wrong question. This is as true in responding to a brief or designing a new strategy for a company as it is in striking a meaningful balance between work and life.” Design thinkers should take a step back and apply Mortis’ first step when approaching a new project: forget. Forget your familiarity, forget your background, forget your pre-concepts, and even forget what was asked of you.
Connect to the object of study, create authentic empathy, and only then start working, wondering and looking for answers. Maybe the solution to the need you were hired to resolve was not in the question you were hired to answer. The four W’s of Branding are a good technique to start formulating questions that are able to define a cer-tain project/product/service. Start by defining who, what, where, and why. Who are the people involved in the project/who is your target audience? What arethe services/products you are designing or communicating? Where is this information being displayed?
But the fundamental question we should be asking is not “how” or “what” we should do, since these questions can only describe what the product/service is or what strategies the company will adopt to deliver this product or to communicate properly. The true question is “why”. This is the line of thought that will take you to the core “purpose” of the project. Tim Brown, in his Change by Design, states that we should ask “why”as many times as we can since every time we get an answer, we get closer to the essence of what we are doing. Why is all of this relevant to the community/user? Why is this needed? Why should people get involved? Why is the company investing in this project?