Design for Real People


The acknowledged father of industrial design Henry Dreyfuss once said;

“the products we design are going to be ridden in, sat upon, looked at, talked into, activated, operated, or in some way used by people individually or en-masse. If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed. If, on the other hand, people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient-or just plain happier-the industrial designer has succeeded.”

Thus, espousing the view that success should be defined by how well the product’s design or functionality meets the needs of the people who use it.

But designing with the user in mind pre-supposes that clients and designers have taken the time to fully understand what it is that the end-users want; what the product is for, and how will the solution make users satisfied. Looking through the lens to see the design problem from a designer’s perspective, one can ask: what does a designer want to achieve from his design efforts? What are the requirements from the designers perspective, and do they align with those of the user?

In 1967 Melvyn Conway, a mathematician and computer scientist, submitted a paper called “How Do Committees Invent?” to the Harvard Business Review. HBR rejected it because he had not proved the thesis. So, Mel submitted it to Datamation, a major IT magazine at that time, which published it in April 1968. The central premise of the paper was;

“any organization that designs a system (product) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.”

When Fred Brooks cited the paper and the idea in his elegant classic “The Mythical Man-Month,” “Conway’s Law” was born. The central premise being that products of design mirror exactly the shape and character of the design teams who are assembled to design them.