Steve Fyke, the AC’s Design Strategy Mentor, on the importance of human-centred design
When it comes to creating a great product, Steve Fyke, the Accelerator Centre’s newest mentor, finds himself saying the same thing almost every day: you can’t trust your intuition.
“Intuition is based on personal experience,” says Fyke. “What you see as intuitive isn’t necessarily the same for other people. If someone else has a very different set of experiences, they won’t have the same sense of what’s intuitive.”
With over 15 years of mechanical, industrial, and design strategy experience, he knows his stuff. Fyke has led a number of advanced research and development projects, most of which looked at integrating emerging technologies into existing systems to improve user experience.
It was during this research that he started to see a major flaw in how many people approach design: they tend to develop new technologies and figure out what problem they’re trying to solve afterward.
“It’s more important to focus on solving a problem from the beginning,” says Fyke. “I started to change my approach by looking at how I could apply new or existing technologies to human problems. Then I’d build a solution based on what I learned.”
So what does good design look like?
“There’s no question that it’s important to have a solid engineering foundation when you’re developing a product,” he says. “But I’ve found that the more you focus on what people need the more likely you are to design something that people enjoy using.”
That’s why he encourages companies to take a human-centred approach to product development: find the human element in a problem and create a compelling story to clearly explain how the product will solve that problem.
“I was impressed with Steve’s approach right away,” says Andre Bodo, CEO of Kineris Inc. “He’s challenged us to think from the patient’s perspective; to see how our product will be part of their life.”
Kineris, a current AC client, is a medical device design firm, dedicated to improving patient care through technology. Their user-friendly SmartBrace™ encourages recovery by allowing patients and care providers to track progress and set goals.
“Working with Steve has enabled us to streamline our product and increase our efficiency,” adds Bodo. “Most significantly he’s helped us to design a product that tells a story of recovery rather than one of injury.”
Fyke believes that stories are integral to designing a product because people relate to them. “You can create a product that is technically well designed,” he says, “but if you can’t tell the customer how it helps them, they’re not going to want it – they can’t see it fitting into their lives.”
The trick is to tell a story that’s not quite complete – a story with a few holes built into it. “Sometimes people will use your products in ways you never expected. By leaving the story mostly complete it lets your customers fill in the holes with their own experience. That way, instead of your story, it becomes their story – people start to tell their story about your product, and that’s powerful.”
At the end of the day, it’s about solving problems and learning new things for Fyke, which is what makes the AC a perfect fit. “I love exploring, learning, and solving problems – mostly solving problems, it’s my favourite thing in the world to do.
“The AC is ideal because it allows me to jump between projects that are at different stages of the development spectrum. Because I have a broad technical background, I can help clients with the design of a product or help tweak their product so that it fits a human need. This allows them to tell that compelling story and get potential customers engaged.”
Of course, the story is never quite complete.