Design thinking in engineering

loadingThe “time to leave for meeting” message pops up on your phone. You leave the office, look up the address and get into your car. You unlock it remotely and start the engine, only to find that the in-car navigation responds with “please wait”. No indication on how much longer you have to wait, in fact, no response from the system whatsoever. And you remain. Waiting.

Somehow, it seemed acceptable to use billion dollar satellites as data-providers for car systems with the processing speed of a walnut, rendering the solution to the end-user’s problem unusable. Maybe you have never noticed, but in-car navigation makes you wait instead of drive “by design”.

Now imagine the following. The “time to leave for meeting” message pops up on your phone. You leave the office, look up the address and get into your car. You unlock it remotely, and the car – preemptively – starts its navigation system. You get in, and the system asks for a destination. No menu or dialogue: a quick “where do you want to go?” with an input field suffices. You answer, start the car and you are good to go.

To any user experience designer, it is unthinkable that during the only time that a user needs to interact with a product (i.e. after “getting into the car”, before “driving away”), the system is unavailable. And the in-car navigation is just one example; the dashboard and user interface are filled with items that are either illogical or dangerous by design. You’ve just learned to cope with them and multitask during driving. So how would we get from the first scenario to the second? Part of the solution is to keep the design team involved during development and properly utilize skills in understanding end-user behavior and main user stories.

Quality management would recognize the issue described in scenario one as an ordinary system failure, identifiable with a simple interaction analysis, usability test or even an FMEA procedure with design thinkers. A better blend of skillsets during quality-analysis in engineering can without a doubt lead to easier mapping of technical failures to essential user-stories. Including design thinking in development, and involve the users early and often: it should become best practice in engineering as much as it is in application development. Because once a development team loses track of the end-user’s needs and nobody is there to point that out, eventually and inevitably you will end up with a car that makes a driver wait instead of drive.

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