Mindset is the secret sauce in human centred design

I had the amazing privilege to represent Huddle with Simon Lawry and speak at UX Australia in August (and again at the redux in October) on the topic of the role of mindset in human centred design. You can grab the audio and see sketch notes and photos from our talk directly here: http://uxaustralia.com.au/uxaustralia-2014/mindset-user-centred-design

But what is mindset? Mindset is the perspective and worldview you bring to a situation. It is the frame you exist and live within. It determines how you interact with and view the world and how you view what happens to you. As an example, optimism is a common mindset we adopt in design.

Mindset however, is often missing or only subtly implied in a conversation about design. The focus instead is on the knowledge, skill and tool sets of design. Within literature and practice there is an imbalance toward the doing aspects of design – the process, methods and tools – in comparison to mindset. Where mindset is discussed it is usually only stated with little insight into what different mindsets there are, how to develop or enact them, or how mindset can impact on practice.

Through our research and experience in industry we’ve become increasingly aware that mindset is the secret sauce in human centred design. It is the mindset we bring as designers that is our key differentiator in being able to navigate complex problems, not the knowledge, skills or tools we use.

Mindset however is like air. Its difficult to be aware of and name the mindset we are adopting and enacting. If we want to change it, it requires a change in composition, and effectively, a change in us. Our mindset also changes how we apply the knowledge, skill and tool sets of design. In this way, a change in mindset, changes the possibility for outcomes.

To understand mindset in context, last year Huddle conducted a large research piece for a client where the research question was: What can we understand about people that is relevant for the future? We conducted observations, used cultural probes, contextual inquiry and in-depth interviews with a diverse range of people to gain insight into this research question.

One of the largest findings from the research was the emergence of two overarching mindsets: a generative mindset or a receiving mindset. The mindset impacted on how people interacted in and with the world.

A generative mindset believes in the ability to have agency in and affect the world. It has characteristics of being proactive, being courageous, and seizing opportunity. Kids are a great example of a generative mindset. They see the world as full of possibility they can interact with and test. They continually play and test the environment they are in and see opportunity rather than constraints.

In comparison, a receiving mindset believes the world affects you and you can only receive and react to what the world offers you. In this mindset, the individual is driven by fear, uncertainty and sees the world as a set of constraints.

In short, a generative mindset represents a view of ‘me and the world’ compared to a receiving mindset which represents ‘me vs the world’.

We also learned however that an individual is never wholly generative or wholly receiving. Its a continuum you move within dependent upon the situation. In our findings we were able to determine three influencing factors that contribute to the mindset an individual adopts within a situation.These factors are: belief in agency, sense of self and locus of control. As a result, your perception of your agency, sense of self and control within a situation will determine the mindset you bring to it. As such, your mindset shifts dependent on the context. In this way, neither mindset is better or worse, good or bad, positive or negative but a decision based on perception and belief.

From this, the most challenging finding that emerged from the research was that fundamentally you choose the mindset you bring to a situation. You have the ability to be aware of and decide on your mindset in a situation. As such, we challenge you to consider: how might you encourage a generative mindset in yourself and the people you work with?

Designing our library future: be involved or be forgotten

What is the future of the Library? What is the future of the Librarian? These are questions we hear and see discussed ad nauseum at conferences, in blogs, in our tea rooms. In reality the ‘future library’ has already snuck in the back door. We were just too focused on the discussion to notice.

There is no doubt that technology has changed libraries, and the role of the librarian, exponentially over the past thirty years. Over this time as librarians have adapted and taken on new roles and more responsibilities they have in fact become less adept at being able to succinctly describe their role, and more importantly less able to articulate their value.

Perhaps the library world thought it could just get by on its warm fuzzy factor… after all everyone seems to love libraries! I’ve never seen a library receive poor ratings on satisfaction surveys. Libraries have the power to have people protest at their closing down who have never walked into the building. In actuality, people love the idea of libraries more than the reality of the juxtaposition of books, shelves, space and people they are forced to interact with. What is it about the idea of libraries (more than the reality) that people are so committed to?

In light of this, the library world has a lot of questions it needs to answer:

What is the role of the library today?
What is the value of the librarian?
What is it about a library that makes people care about it?
What do people need from a library?
How do people use a library?
And most fundamentally of all – What do we want the library to be? 

These are all questions we need to be able to answer – articulately, succinctly and passionately – if we are to regain control over our own future. Notice this does not include technology or tools but is about people, culture, and needs. In true librarian style we are instead having a pleasant leisurely conversation about it over tea and biscuits rather than understanding the urgency of the situation.

How might we, the library industry, design our own future?

There is no question that we are facing a paradigm shift of epic proportions that requires a complete reconsideration of the very foundations and ideas of the role and value of libraries and librarians. It’s messy, it will feel uncomfortable and take some getting used to, but we need to put down the tea and bickies and embrace design thinking. In its essence design thinking is a collaborative and human centred problem solving approach for solving complex business, organizational and social problems.

Design thinking offers an approach for the library world to strategically move forward, as co-authors of the future of libraries. It provides an opportunity to explore in a structured and meaningful way these philosophical questions and ‘problem find’, to then problem solve, appropriately.

Co-authoring and collaboration here does not mean a team of librarians, or even a team of librarians and designers, but a multidisciplinary team that represents all the people who have a stake in the library. This includes: librarians, designers, customers, vendors, service providers and other major stakeholders depending on the library’s context. Further to this, a human centred approach not only considers just the librarian or user or vendor. Instead design thinking ensures a holistic solution is designed that is sustainable and caters to all the humans involved, not just one segment.

The process is grounded in engaging and co-creating the future with and for all stakeholders with the human always at the centre. It is a proactive and future focused approach that is grounded in understanding the stories of the past and the current operating context.

Design thinking is already being used in libraries to rethink and redesign the future of libraries, as in this presentation by Scottish service design agency Snook:

We have to understand this is not about adding on, or adapting, or evolving, or rebuilding, but redesigning the very core of what a library is and means in today’s postmodern world.

Or will we be sipping our tea, eating our biscuits and talking about how important we are while the world moves on without us.

(Note: This was a guest post for ALIA Sydney. It also appears over here . Same content, different coloured background 😉 )