Now that technology is deeply woven into our lives, says pioneering interaction designer Cooper, how do we ensure that technology serves people?
This is part 1 of an interview series with Alan Cooper, “The Father of Visual Basic,” and cofounder of the pioneering design firm Cooper, which joined the Designit and Wipro Digital family last October. Alan is the author of About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design.
Designit: Why did you choose to join forces with Designit?
Alan: There were two big decision factors: We felt a strong cultural connection and Designit seemed to care about doing work on things that matter. In the early days, Cooper focused on trying to fix the world. We wanted to stop technology from making things frustrating. Back in 1992, no one was doing this. We had to develop a practice, to convince people that design was separate from engineering. Now, 25 years later, as part of the North American arm of Designit and Wipro, Cooper can help give clients full-service, end-to-end capability.
Designit: What are the challenges facing designers in the coming decades?
Alan: The nature of what we do is to serve humans with technology, but there’s a long history of humans serving technology. But now that technology is deeply woven into our lives, from the way we socialize to our infrastructure and our economy, how do we ensure that technology serves people?
Designit: What is useful for Designit and Cooper to understand as they work together with Wipro and address this issue?
Alan: Changing isn’t necessary on the design side. Turmoil, revolution, rethinking, restructuring, and relearning — that’s what you do on a daily basis, and that has to happen on the tech side. Creating a good user experience is not a design problem, it’s a power struggle. People don’t want to change what they do. Wipro was an IT services company that realized that they needed to be something greater than an IT services organization — or their business would disappear. They acquired Designit to transform themselves into a company that is human-centered rather than tech-centered. So they are already taking the right approach.
Designit: What does end-to-end service that is human-centric mean for clients?
Alan: It means an inversion of the way you do business. We no longer say to clients, “What do you want us to build? We’ll build it.” Our partnerships are collaborative. We ask clients about their vision for their company. Then we must understand what the marketplace looks like, how people are using the product or service, and the goals the company wants to achieve. And marshal technology to get them there. It’s not easy. But it’s not a design problem.
Designit: So how do companies become more human-centric?
Alan: It’s a matter of changing the nature of your business and what you value. Business people make decisions about efficiency, cost control, predictive management, and estimates. That’s not working anymore. Management must reshape what they do.
Designit: Do individuals need to rethink what they do or how they work?
Alan: Most practitioners already have a strong sense of what they do. People who code will still write code. People who design the behavior of that code will continue to design the behavior of that code. Product managers will still manage products. Their #1 obstacle is managers telling them to do something different.
Designit: How do you balance cost control and the innovation process?
Alan: You don’t. The idea of trying to be creative or innovative at work used to be a radical notion. Not anymore. Much has been said, researched, and written about how innovation works. The idea that you can estimate how long it takes to innovate should be seen as an oxymoron, yet many executives are still asking for estimates on that. Cost control is the bread and butter of business management: Tell me what you want to do and I’ll manage it. But that’s not how innovation works.
In the next interview, Alan Cooper discusses the dueling roles of cost control and innovation. Provocatively, he asks: “What is the ROI on management?” and challenges managers to empower people to tackle problems without the impediment of cost control.