principles of human-centered design: “Human Dignity and Human Rights”

i read this essay that is just plain great! it strikes up good conversation … everything from outsourcing jobs overseas to intelligent design. human-centered-ness is huge within the design sphere. otherwise, it’s just form. and form is nothing without content. and content is what speaks to the people. ethics were also raised when one of my professors reiterated that it’s not ethical design producing people but rather ethical people producing graphic design. i thought that was pretty cool.

My thoughts on Richard Buchanan’s Human Dignity and Human Rights.
– brianprince

It was easy for me to say Amen after reading Human Dignity and Human Rights: Thoughts on the principles of human-centered design, by Richard Buchanan. It reads like a story with a motivational ending. Motivating enough for me to donate money to, but maybe that’s what this is all about — touching humanity. Buchanan brings to light a large metaphor that provokes large thought. In comparing South Africa’s constitution with the United States’, he explains how cultural evolution lies at the very core of a government that is strong and stable for years to come. Buchanan references Dr. Kadir Asmal’s innovative speeches and translates those ideas into “graphic design” language. He writes of an evolution from “form and function,” to “form and content.” This new design thinking really makes sense because it adds human-centered value to design as a field and as a tool for creating a better way of living.

This essay is very important to all designers for the simple, yet profound statement Asmal communicates, “the connection between practice and ultimate purpose.” His principles relate to making a people-group go round, but it rings true on so many levels in so many agendas in the design world. We think of design, mainly, for it’s usability, marketability, economics, form and aesthetics, but this pushes content, end-result and, “ultimate purpose.” The best example I can think of at the moment would be this: If I was voting for John McCain and Barack Obama came to me with loads of money and asked me to design his campaign or even a piece of it, would I do it and justify it as another “job?” Buchanan says we normally consider our design by the methods in which we use, and ultimately ignore where we are grounded — at our very own core. Designing a piece of Obama’s campaign might be in my best interest, but shoots a hole in my dignity.

What defines human rights and human dignity? This seems like it’s getting deeper than the routine design problem, but I say design is the definition. Or at least the framework connecting the two. It’s a problem that combines the foot (politics, economics) with the right size shoe (culture, society). “Human-centered design is fundamentally an affirmation of human dignity. It’s an ongoing search for what can be done to support and strengthen the dignity of human beings as they act out their lives in varied… circumstances.” So it is deeper than proving someone can use it or that someone “likes” it. It has to touch/impact them in a way that advances their dignity. This raises the designer responsibility. We are not just decorators. Buchanan puts it nice though, “design is not everything in human life… design offers a way of thinking about the world that is significant for addressing many of the problems that human beings face in contemporary culture.” And appropriately, I’d like to add, “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Gettysburg Address, 1863)

It all comes down to this: If you want to accomplish human-centered design, you have to reach into the center of your human being. It starts in the framework, and there are no templates for that.

to read Buchanan’s essay yourself, it can be found on page 140 of  Looking Closer 5: Critical Writings on Graphic Design (Bk. 5) by Bierut, Drenttel and Heller:
“Richard Buchanan: “Human Dignity and Human Rights: Thoughts on the principles of human-centered design.”