Human-Centered Design (HCD) has been around for a long time. The techniques are simple, elegant processes that help people solve problems by focusing on the behaviors, wants and needs of users. It’s an effective approach to help people communicate, rapidly test ideas and make decisions. These are skills a child could learn. In fact, I posit, they are skills a child should learn.
Eight years ago I joined MAYA Design from industries unfamiliar with the term ‘human-centered design.’ Disney and Dreamworks had been making films for decades and were well-established production machines of creativity. Additionally, the 3D software and hardware development industries were no closer to it, even though humans ultimately used the products they built. As I learned more about HCD methods and observed MAYAns engaging with our customers and their users, it made me wonder: “Who wouldn’t benefit from design-thinking and tools for collaboration?” and “Why aren’t we building design literacy from kindergarten; for everyone to benefit?”
A few months after arriving at MAYA, my co-worker Paul Gould introduced me to the world of Odyssey of the Mind (OotM), where he was a veteran coach for his kids’ team. OotM is an international, creative long- and short-term problem-solving competition for students in kindergarten through college. Kids form teams of 5-7 participants in four age categories and work together to solve a long-term predefined problem and present their solutions at a competition. Teams often take months to develop a solution, which involves various elements of theatrical performance, construction and design. During the competition, teams also participate in a spontaneous activity where they generate solutions to a problem they haven’t seen before. These two activities are fantastic for flexing different creative muscles by combining analytical skills with the ability to think on your feet.
Bringing HCD to first grade
At the same time, my son was in first grade and growing increasingly bored with Boy Scouts. I decided to introduce the OotM program to his school, form a team, and attempt to coach a gaggle of bright first-graders to solve a complex problem together. I was still very new to HCD, so as I learned more skills at MAYA, I would try them with the team.
As my son (and daughter) grew with OoTM, and I with them, I saw the work we do at MAYA in a new and meaningful way. It’s one thing to equip adults with tools and skills that will allow them to be successful at work. But it’s an incredibly satisfying experience to see how those same tools and skills can help my daughter and six other middle-schoolers negotiate difficult decisions with unbridled passion.
They use creative matrices to generate hundreds of ideas, and champion their favorites with detailed drawings and monster-in-a-box posters. They use rose, bud, thorn tags to give each idea positive and negative feedback, and then vote on the most acceptable path with clear communication and no tantrums. Everyone has a voice and is able to participate in his or her own way. These scenes aren’t even common at the university level.
The future is bright
Interestingly, the passion for HCD is contagious. Parents of my OoTM team members now tell me how they go into work meetings with sticky notes and run similar activities at law firms and retirement homes.
I find the work MAYA does to be inspirational for our future. I’m excited for the possibilities I see when MAYA, and our sister company LUMA, make inroads and bring HCD into uncharted fields such as city planning, government and education. I will continue to teach HCD techniques to anyone willing to learn, as I believe them to be compelling communication tools that are instrumental to making effective, efficient and ground-breaking decisions.