Human centred principles of design — Two case studies (and films)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about key principles of design. One of the most important and emphasised principle of design is how it’s human-centred (or people-centred, customer-centred, user-centred, about customer-centricity, customer experience, user experience, to use other similar phrases). Some of the best demonstrations of this can be seen in two product design companies whom I have been a big fan of for many years. Not just for their human-centred approach, but because I am also a customer and user of their products, and find them incredibly functional and desirable to use.

The first case study is on Smart Design, the designers behind the popular OXO Good Grips potato peeler (or Swivel Peeler). I know this case study has been around for a long time, but it’s still so inspiring and so relevant today having revolutionised kitchen tools in the 1990s by making utensils more user-friendly and enjoyable to use.

In 1990 Smart Design worked in collaboration with OXO to launch the Swivel Peeler. Designed from user insight and questions like Why do ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands? Why can’t there be wonderfully comfortable tools that are easy to use? hundreds of prototype models were created before the Swivel Peeler was born. The film below, recently published online by the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, reveals the Smart Design mindset, where they believe that “design should be for everyone” and kitchen tools should be “enablers” for us to do things (in our industrialised society we often see tools and machines as doing things for us, rather than seeing them as enablers).

In their process, Smart Design observed how people were most drawn to a rubberised bike handle, among hundreds of other handle models they collected for research. It was this observation, of people constantly picking up and playing with the bike handle, that inspired the designers to develop a key feature of the Swivel Peeler. The peeler handle was designed with rubber and fins for comfort and grip, just like you’d find on a bicycle.

Image from OXO website

In the film, Smart Design also discuss how they prototyped early rather than using a lot of sketching. This is a nice lesson for how to move a process forward quickly, by making and testing things early.

CooperHewitt Visits Smart Design

The second case study is of another company that makes kitchenware called Joseph Joseph. I discovered them while I was living in the UK and I love their products because they are thoughtful, well designed, well made and fun. The two brothers that comprise Joseph Joseph discuss in another short film (I recently found on YouTube) how they strive for “functional innovation” and then use colour to make their kitchen tools attractive, desirable and an accessory in the home. In homes of today, it is common for people to entertain in their kitchen, especially with the popularity of open living spaces where kitchens and living spaces are combined. Joseph Joseph discuss how the colours of their products create an additional accessory for the home.

In one of their most innovative and popular products, the Nest, Joseph Joseph speak of the user insight that led them to the design. In their research, when they looked into people’s kitchen drawers, they found a range of utensils stored messily in a small space. So they designed the Nest to combine 9 different kitchen utensils that sit inside one another, taking up half the space. The designers designed white and multi-coloured versions of the Nest, relaying that the muli-coloured version sold 10 times more because people were attracted to its vibrancy. I am too because I have a Nest and it’s functional and fun for cooking with. Also in our apartment it doesn’t take up very much space.

Joseph Joseph’s Nest™ 9 Plus. Image from Joseph Joseph website

Joseph Joseph also discuss in the film “great design”, of which they say “great design” is when you take a product home and it’s better than what you expect. It should “put a smile on people’s faces.”

Colorizing the Kitchen

I really love these insights into the design practices of Smart Design and Joseph Joseph. Imagine if we could apply their principles and philosophies in the development and conception of all products and services. All products and services would be:

  • Great for almost everyone
  • Enable us to do what we want to do, and more
  • Exceed our expectations
  • Functional
  • Fit into our lifestyles
  • Attractive and desirable and
  • Put a smile on our face

Imagine if we always thought about people first, doing design research for user insight and attempting to create things that could “put a smile on people’s faces.” Imagine how wonderful the all products and services in our world could be.

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