Design for Humans’ Energy

Energy powers innovation, creativity, motivation, and the will to make change happen if we design for it.

Change requires power. Power comes from energy. Without the energy to power change we will go nowhere. Yet, much of what we design in our innovation plans lack a power plant to fuel change. This power plant involves curiosity and the ability to perceive the world in ways that invite questions.

Questions inspire a search for something better. Innovation is all about the quest for something better through design. If this is all true, then why is it that energy is given so little attention in our plans for change-making?

In this fifth article in the Design for Humans series we look at the topic of energy.

Energy and Entropy

Entropy refers to the largely unexpected and unpredictable dissipative property of complex systems. When there is much going on the energy spreads, which is what we see in human systems. Our web of relationships and activities spreads energy throughout the system, while innovation involves focusing our energy towards something. When we design for innovation, we are attending to this tug of war between entropy and focused energy.

Entropy is felt when we tackle many problems and issues at the same time or our problem is multi-faceted. Most of human systems problems feature high levels of entropy so our designs must account for this. When we design for entropy we acknowledge complexity and simple ‘solutions.’ This involves creating space for doubt, uncertainty, and freedom to reflect on both of them. It also involves the kind of social spaces that allow us to explore complex ideas and see new relationships. Visual thinking is another key component of designing for this space.

For the humans involved in these designs it means we create spaces to learn, share, and visualize our ideas.

Boosting Energy

Designing with and for complexity is easy to speak about and much harder to actually do. It’s far simpler to come up with a plan, apply some ‘industry standard’ KPI’s and best practices and produce something on budget and on time. Mission accomplished.

Except, when we design for the wrong system qualities we get something that might look good, but fails. Designing for complexity involves creating things that might not look elegant, but are functional, adaptive and fit-for-purpose.

Maintaining energy for this kind of design work requires leadership and creating a vision for the future (and the means to evaluate that vision). This is where futures and foresight become so valuable to the design process. When we can see what might come and have a pathway forward, it boosts and maintains motivation. A goal, articulated well and appropriately, can help lead us to change. Whether achieved or not, goals and the visions behind them can harness the energy we gain from curiosity and accomplishment.

It also helps us to build our creative confidence, which has many other benefits for innovation.

Humans and Energy

Much like a flower gains energy from photosynthesis, so does our exposure to great ideas, excitement, and people. This is why inspiration must be a primary outcome of design. Bruce Mau argues that without inspiration no design truly moves forward.

How often do we see plans set in place that are logical, well-grounded in evidence, have a business case and yet lack any excitement to them? This is not designing for humans, it’s designing for plans. It’s design without energy.

For designers seeking to create a better ‘next’ our visions must be inspiring and our execution must be visible. To achieve this, designers must account for leadership, engagement, execution and evaluation in any plan. How often do we see designs lack all or some of these qualities?

It’s no longer sufficient to claim to be human-centred without inspiration as a core part of the design. It’s no longer good design to create products and services without generating excitement in those who deliver them. The days of strategy and systemic designs being data-driven yet soulless in form are gone (for those wanting to do well).

Design for Humans is an energy project as much as anything else.

Photo by RawFilm on Unsplash and Gustavo QuepĆ³n on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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