Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Oct 2019


Persuading a designer’s shift from “intuitive” to “indigenous”

Tearing a perspective from history in order to reclaim a voice that should have never been taken? This is a way to describe the Euro-American shift of veneration towards accepted/primary voice on Columbus Day/Indigenous (Groups) Day. It might seem a simple political maneuvering to opine on the topic. Yet this isn’t a political blog, this is a design-oriented exposition. Lessons for what has been happening with perspective on this day follow lessons towards what designers and their industries are learning in regards to the expression of productivity and consumption.

The shift to experience design has asked for companies to acknowledge and invest within the perspective of those closest to the business output — whether this would be the producers or consumers. Open both the business processes and technical competencies to the perspective of these producers and consumers, and allow this to add/shift/remove value from the company’s operating focus. Shift is the right word here. There’s no amount of artistry as delicate as changing behaviors for a culture, and yet experience design asks this very thing.

The result of such shifts are defined in transactional terms. Helpful? Perhaps to the legs of business and technology on this now three-legged table (experience design now becoming a leg of equal value to business focus and technology enablement). However, it may be better defined in the terms of those more native to the intended transaction. Indigenous could be the better word here, even as loaded as it is for political framing. Within design framing, “indigenous” moves us past the ethereal “intuitive” and by importing empathetic lenses to transformation’s voice. Not simply enough to “use the words they are familiar with,” indigenous also means we ascribe to tone, framing, and even acknowledged disassociation — we may be designers but we aren’t designers of other’s comfort, only of the tools they use to craft their own.

In another industry, rap music continues to be debated as a form of music because those who held a primary “this is valuable music” perspective have found their tools to be used to author another group’s expression of being. Shared tools does not mean shared perspective. In fact, the drive to authentic experiences almost never comes from those author the tools. It is designed by the voice of those who wish to express tonal accuracy to their lives, according to rules native to them. And as such, it’s that much more important for designers to elevate indigenous peoples and their cultures.

In doing so, the designer elevates the voices of those once condemned to be heard under a false celebrity— one who might have rightly instigated the perspectives we now enjoy. But, also one who’s transactional nature unfortunately colonized the leg on which we might better find stability and worth.