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Careers of the Future: Human-Centered Design Is Putting Innovative Insights Into Action

In this third installment of our seven-week Careers of the Future series, Bill Gribbons, director of the Bentley Human Factors in Information Design program and professor of Information Design and Corporate Communication, discusses the rapidly growing need for human-centered products and services.

Careers in design and communications are evolving rapidly; and, 10 years from now, many of today’s graduates will be in positions that don’t even exist in 2014.

So how do you prepare for that?

At Bentley, we decided to create an entirely new discipline based on human-centered product and service design. This new way of thinking has been completely embraced by our students, and the proof is the kinds of jobs for which they’ve been hired.

One example is a lead video game designer. Other positions include: a user experience researcher at a lead social media organization in Silicon Valley, or a product designer for a medical device manufacturer.

In the past, companies forced products onto the marketplace and consumers had to use them. But, as the positions mentioned above suggest, the market is now demanding products and services that focus on human needs. In essence, the marketplace has flipped and companies must now bend to the user.

We emphasize this in our programs. And we try to bring a deep scientific understanding of people to the design experience. Design must reflect a genuine sensitivity to the abilities and needs of people, and our students accept this notion.

We call this the practice of informed design; and informed design happens by design, not by accident.

That’s one of the reasons why future design and communication professionals must understand more than visual arts, technology and communication strategy. They’ll also need to have a grasp of human behavior, cultural psychology, physiological needs, and cognitive needs and limits. Great and innovative design is influenced by all of this.

We know that we can’t answer all the questions about what people need and want, but we also know that we have to get out of the classroom and into the world of the customer to learn more upfront, build a foundation of expertise, and internalize our empathy for people who use the products and services that we’re designing.

Careers in the future will demand that professionals know how to gather data and understand people so that they can end up with an actionable and innovative design insight. And that’s what the Bentley model inculcates — a symbiotic curriculum in which the humanities and social and natural sciences fuse with business education and technology.

Our user-oriented design program is the largest of its kind in the world. We have about 155 graduate students right now. About 25 percent come from the social sciences; about 25 percent come from engineering; about 25 percent come from design; and about 25 percent come from outside areas like theater, music, digital art and digital games.

We teach these students that the innovation stream must be continuous, because people are now used to innovation, and they’re impatient for more of it.

It’s important to note that we’re not just educating students for their first jobs. We’re trying to educate for a lifetime career. And that means we must teach students how to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. They have to be able to switch industries seamlessly and change levels by moving up the organization once they leave Bentley.

We had a student who graduated and went to work for Bose, the audio company, for example. Then he left Bose and moved to a major Internet service provider. Next, he joined EMC, the data storage provider. After this, he accepted an offer from Autodesk, which makes CAD software. Finally, he became the Vice President of User Experience for a health care company. Each position represented a vertical move — all in the user experience area. That’s real breadth and versatility. But our far-sighted education definitely helped him to successfully navigate all this.

We focus on people, because that’s the one constant element that will define careers in the future. If you focus on people, you’re going to be a desirable employee, and one who grows and prospers in our field. You’re also going to be seen as an innovation driver.

Our students are already learning this from the corporate partners in our classes. In Boston, for instance, we have companies like Google and Verizon helping us; and, in San Francisco, it’s companies like PayPal and Walmart.com.

I think you have to be passionate about your future profession, and our students are. Whether they’re designing for children, for an aging population, for education, for the retail industry, or for the entertainment world, they are deeply immersed and truly committed.

That’s why I’m pretty confident that the world will be better designed in the decades to come.

Careers of the Future Series

Read other installments in our seven-week Careers of the Future Series:

Our 21st Century Mission: Preparing Students for Careers of the Future
Blending Theory and Practice with Big Data
Sustainability, the Merging of Science and Business
Economics Has Many Career Options, From Rock Singer to President of the United States
Accounting Helps Students Get Beyond the Numbers
Will You Be Able to Recognize the Next Big Thing?

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User Oriented Design

False academic circular logic. Telephones were created and sold because people needed to communicate better. Medicines are created & sold to save lives. Guns are created & sold to kill more efficiently & safely. This concept of design was created and sold for self advancement.