Tuesday, March 12, 2013

hacking at social change

[Graphic design by Hannes Beer]

Lately I've been thinking a lot about design thinking and user-centered (and human-centered) design. In particular, I've been thinking about how it can be used across fields, not just by designers. Two nights ago, the phrase "Design Thinking for Hackers" came into my head and I couldn't quite shake it.

I know next-to-nothing about hacking. Living in the Bay Area, I'm fairly familiar with the concept and its lean, quick-and-dirty, just-see-what-works model is all the rage here. But I don't code and have worked very hard to keep my design work the physical world. It turns out I'm not the only one thinking about design thinking can help those hackers who busily spend their free weekends trying to save nonprofits and open governments. According to Jake Porway's recent piece in the Harvard Business Review blog:

"For all of these upsides, however, hackathons are not ideal for solving big problems like reducing poverty, reforming politics, or improving education and, when they're used to interpret data for social impact, they can be downright dangerous...You need to have a clear problem definition, include people who understand the data not just data analysis, and be deeply sensitive with the data you're analyzing. Any data scientist worth their salary will tell you that you should start with a question, NOT the data."

So how can hackers avoid hacking up our future? Porway doesn't get right out and say it, but, through design thinking. Through, as Porway does highlight, getting people in the room who understand where the data comes from and asking the right questions. To often, the tech world celebrates grinding away in isolation, which works for creating beautiful objects and interfaces but will consistently fail at solving social problems. Social problems can only be solved by those who understand them. Hackers are comfortable iterating and asking, 'does it work?' Let's get them comfortable asking, 'who does it need to work for?' and 'why?' first. 

1 comment:

rich4hacker said...
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