What actually limits what we can imagine?

Prescribed Imagination

We’ve been exploring different answers to this question in the readings for this past week. We read about how simple things in our daily routines can actually be constraining us from thinking the possibilities beyond our current existence.

Going beyond the limitations of our imagination is tough, this is why designers and inventors have come up with methodologies that aim to disrupt the way we think and let us go a bit further than individually possible (aka, defamiliarization, insight combination, reframing). We can also imply that it takes imagination to come up with these methodologies, but it is also interesting to think about how, as humans, we are conscious about what we don’t know but curious to push the boundaries to see where our minds take us.

But imagination is an important element of innovation, so much so, that individuals in creative roles are now more important than ever. Seeking value and differentiation for a product or service is becoming harder, but chances are, if our methods are implemented in the right way, that a team of innovation is most likely to succeed in this task.

In his article “Management Education”, Roger Martin introduces one example of such methods, he states that “ […] design is not about either/or but about integrative thinking.” Integrative thinking being a way in which all perspectives (user, stakeholder, competitor, etc) around one problem are considered as a whole during the analysis, and never taken apart, avoiding tradeoffs.

Designing technology for humans

Technology has made us become more aware and proactive about our health. The massive amount of data we receive after two seconds of googling informs us (and can also get us a little panicky) but it has also made it more accessible for us to know about treatment options, their  success rates, costs, related support groups, etc. But it doesn’t really matter how much data has been made available to us, at the end of the day, our experience will be defined by the interaction with another human.

Designers are supposed to work based on empathy, but how many products or services are we designing that help people gain empathy for each other in an unbiased way? Quantifying data has become so important in order to track business performance, that the idea to stop and think about what people are really talking about is nonexistent. This resonates with what Tim and Karen say on their “The Cloud and Other Dangerous Metaphors” article published in The Atlantic:

“Our current data metaphors do us a disservice by masking the human behaviors, relationships, and communications that make up all that data we’re streaming and mining. They make it easy to get lost in the quantity of the data without remembering how personal so much of it is. And if people forget that, it’s easy to understand how large-scale ethical breaches happen; the metaphors help us to lose track of what we’re really talking about.”

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So how might we leverage existing technology and the concept of current social platforms to do this? How can we get past the day to day potentially frivolous information and help humans understand each other? We’re not talking about Facebook or Instagram here, we’re talking about something that is more complex but potentially more rewarding. Because how else do we gain empathy by people if not by asking questions. But how feasible is this in environments like, hospital rooms, to be able to ask questions without hindering efficiency.

We read a couple articles from April Starr, a designer that has shared some of her personal experiences with healthcare services. She does this by describing the patient/ caregiver perspectives, and the emotions that take place when they’re in one of the environments that can make people feel the most vulnerable; a hospital room filled with uncertainty and anxiety. Who would have thought that the humans that are there to make you feel better, aren’t cutting it?:

“Who are you? You walk into the room and we don’t know your level, specialty, name, or role. Should we listen to you? What questions can we ask you? Who the fuck knows?”
 Free ideas from a human-centered designer for hospitals that want to be (or make it seem like they are) patient-centric.

During a quick class activity, I challenged myself and my classmates to address this “how might we” question. The problem was a near future, where population will be exponentially larger and the communication between doctors and patients is still deficient. The frame I used for this activity was inspired on the dependence all organizations have on dashboards. The rules where the following:

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Although the dashboard format was a constraint, it was interesting to see how my classmates had different ideas and perspectives to display on the dashboard. Thinking not only about the content on the interface but also their physical (hardware) form.

But, let’s remember designers are not “it”

We most likely don’t have all the answers, which is why we need to find ways to find authentic ones, design research is a good way to start. It is still important to mention that, even though designers need to “think out of the box” on a daily basis and for professional purposes, necessity is still the mother of invention. All humans have the potential to be creative thinkers, thus, have the ability to push their thinking beyond what’s prescribed, and create solutions that suit their needs. Our role as designers is to make things in an integrative way.