Design Thinking and Northwest University
I love my Apple AirPods. What a design marvel they are! The rounded case fits smoothly in my hand and in my pocket. I carry them all day, every day. The pods magnetically jump into their charging slots. The charger works off the same cable that charges the iPhone. Upon opening the case, the charging status of the case and each pod appears on the iPhone screen. The Bluetooth-enabled pods fit snugly into one’s ear—enough to wear them while running without worry that they will fall out. The pods yield control instantly to my automobile’s hands-free speaker. They represent a truly magical product design!
I recently read the biography "Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products" by Leander Kahney. The book not only told a compelling story about Jony Ive, the design genius behind the success of Apple over the past 25 years, it also chronicled the design process that brought us the iPhone and the MacBook Air and the Apple Watch and so many other products that have changed the lives of Apple users so radically. Apple achieved a significant transformation when they stopped having their engineers design the product vision and instead, took the revolutionary step of allowing the design team to build the vision and made the engineers base their implementation on that design. They committed to fresh thinking rather than depending on existing technology that would stifle innovation.
This intimate, behind-the-scenes look at processes in a workshop in California that so powerfully designed the shape of my everyday life has led me to reflections that I have only begun to consider. What are the spiritual repercussions of unbroken access to communications and information? One thing I know is that I’m going to have to find a way to reduce my screen time, even as I’ve been working to increase my prayer time! (The paradox arises that, since I use my phone for Bible reading and my prayer list, increasing devotional time seems to be increasing screen time as well. Who will deliver me from this vicious circle!)
Design thinking has impacted our lives far beyond what we imagine. My office offers an interesting example. Years ago, I gave my big, fancy, expensive desk to my assistant and eliminated it from my office. I decided that the desk had become a stumbling block, constantly tempting me to unproductive behavior, procrastination, and unsightly piles of stuff. So I adopted a one-touch policy. Every piece of paper that enters my office gets touched by me once (at least theoretically). I either throw it away, give it to my assistant for filing, act on it immediately, or delegate it to someone else for action. Not having a desk means that the piles don’t stack up, things get done right away, and I don’t waste my time doing things I’d need equipment like scissors or a stapler to do. Designing my office as a social space instead of a “clerical” space helps me keep my daytime attention on the most important active dimensions of my job—interacting with people!
Design thinking has grown dramatically in importance in our time. In designing products and services and processes and workspaces to ensure the best possible human experience—intuitive, comfortable, enjoyable, efficient, etc.—we increase productivity and satisfaction and prosperity. It should affect every good and service we offer to those whose needs we work to fulfill. (If you are a Northwest University insider, perhaps you hear the echo of our mission statement’s clause “empowered engagement with human need.”)
Many people in higher education are beginning to refer to design thinking as “the new liberal art.” We’re certainly headed that way at Northwest University. Design thinking has shaped our Creatio degree program in Audio Production since its inception, and this year we’re beginning to recruit students for our new major in User Experience (UX) Design. Our first major in the area of computer or digital technology, this program will respond to the huge demand in the job market for people who can creatively bring technical proficiency, artistic talent, and wisdom about human behavior into the design of digital and tangible technology products. Many other new degree programs in technology fields will follow, but all of them will lean on design theory to make people’s lives better. They’ll also require serious thinking about the spiritual dimension of our life and work.
It is our privilege to educate students in this important and growing area of our society.