Mindset is the secret sauce in human centred design

I had the amazing privilege to represent Huddle with Simon Lawry and speak at UX Australia in August (and again at the redux in October) on the topic of the role of mindset in human centred design. You can grab the audio and see sketch notes and photos from our talk directly here: http://uxaustralia.com.au/uxaustralia-2014/mindset-user-centred-design

But what is mindset? Mindset is the perspective and worldview you bring to a situation. It is the frame you exist and live within. It determines how you interact with and view the world and how you view what happens to you. As an example, optimism is a common mindset we adopt in design.

Mindset however, is often missing or only subtly implied in a conversation about design. The focus instead is on the knowledge, skill and tool sets of design. Within literature and practice there is an imbalance toward the doing aspects of design – the process, methods and tools – in comparison to mindset. Where mindset is discussed it is usually only stated with little insight into what different mindsets there are, how to develop or enact them, or how mindset can impact on practice.

Through our research and experience in industry we’ve become increasingly aware that mindset is the secret sauce in human centred design. It is the mindset we bring as designers that is our key differentiator in being able to navigate complex problems, not the knowledge, skills or tools we use.

Mindset however is like air. Its difficult to be aware of and name the mindset we are adopting and enacting. If we want to change it, it requires a change in composition, and effectively, a change in us. Our mindset also changes how we apply the knowledge, skill and tool sets of design. In this way, a change in mindset, changes the possibility for outcomes.

To understand mindset in context, last year Huddle conducted a large research piece for a client where the research question was: What can we understand about people that is relevant for the future? We conducted observations, used cultural probes, contextual inquiry and in-depth interviews with a diverse range of people to gain insight into this research question.

One of the largest findings from the research was the emergence of two overarching mindsets: a generative mindset or a receiving mindset. The mindset impacted on how people interacted in and with the world.

A generative mindset believes in the ability to have agency in and affect the world. It has characteristics of being proactive, being courageous, and seizing opportunity. Kids are a great example of a generative mindset. They see the world as full of possibility they can interact with and test. They continually play and test the environment they are in and see opportunity rather than constraints.

In comparison, a receiving mindset believes the world affects you and you can only receive and react to what the world offers you. In this mindset, the individual is driven by fear, uncertainty and sees the world as a set of constraints.

In short, a generative mindset represents a view of ‘me and the world’ compared to a receiving mindset which represents ‘me vs the world’.

We also learned however that an individual is never wholly generative or wholly receiving. Its a continuum you move within dependent upon the situation. In our findings we were able to determine three influencing factors that contribute to the mindset an individual adopts within a situation.These factors are: belief in agency, sense of self and locus of control. As a result, your perception of your agency, sense of self and control within a situation will determine the mindset you bring to it. As such, your mindset shifts dependent on the context. In this way, neither mindset is better or worse, good or bad, positive or negative but a decision based on perception and belief.

From this, the most challenging finding that emerged from the research was that fundamentally you choose the mindset you bring to a situation. You have the ability to be aware of and decide on your mindset in a situation. As such, we challenge you to consider: how might you encourage a generative mindset in yourself and the people you work with?

Published by zaana

Strategic designer and researcher. PhD in design. I care about people and creating better systems, services and experiences for them. I use human centred design as a method to do this. I write and present about design mindset, human centred design, design maturity, design thinking, user experience, service design, human centricity and empathy.

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