May 15, 2020

Design for love

text by

Alec Wagner

photo by

Last Tuesday, a couple members of the Purple Maiʻa team and I attended a Zoom conversation with Auntie Puanani Burgess and Maya Soetoro-Ng about building a “Beloved Community,” which Auntie Pua describes as one that you want to be a part of, one that you feel invited into, and one that you invite others into.

After a beautiful hour of conversation, Maya asked a question to the over 160 attendees in the webinar, “What is one thing you will commit to doing to build your beloved community?” Feeling instantly inspired after seeing dozens of amazing answers stream into the chat, I wrote that “My kuleana would be to create confidence and conviction in people to do good in our community” --a small drop of commitment in a quickly filling bucket full of good intention.

The following morning, I woke up thinking about what innovation and technology might look like if it was intended to be used in creating a beloved community. I quickly realized that love would need to be at its core. One particular manaful insight came to mind: “It’s much easier to design for someone you love.”

In any innovation process, user research is integral for developing products that can be used effectively by the humans they are meant to be used by. That said, building empathy for users through interviews, focus groups, or other forms of user research is an important skill to be good at and to do frequently. You can improve that skill by trying to fall in love with your users (even just a little bit). Here’s an excerpt from “6 Tips from IDEO Designers on How to Unlock Insightful Conversation.”

“Try very intentionally to fall in love with each person (even if it’s just a little bit). Even if you don’t naturally click with someone, you can always find something you truly appreciate about them, whether it’s their voice or their passion for the topic at hand. When you want to fall in love with someone, everything changes—your curiosity about their life story, your body language, and your empathy toward their situation. These small shifts will show your interviewee that they don’t have to perform or show the “best” parts of themselves, because they can tell that you're deeply on their side. Even after the interview, you'll find yourself coming up with better ideas because it’s much easier to design for someone that you love.”

So if you are working on an early stage idea or startup, if you aren’t talking to your users, start! If you are, next time you do, try to love them (even just a little bit). You’ll gain better insight, which will help you to improve your product or service for your users, provide even more value for them, and you’ll probably even make some new friends. Furthermore, you’ll be contributing to building a beloved community, something I know we are all interested in doing.

E mālama pono,

Alec Wagner
Director, Purple Prize