Design Lab

Text | Fatin Nawaz


Issue 53|54

As someone whose formal education revolved around computer science and databases, I had never stopped to consider myself a designer. Design meant aesthetics, art, illustration, animation – skills I had not practiced and tools I had little control over. However, today, I work as an experience designer at UBL’s Digital Design Lab. In the time between my formal education and my corporate career, I have come to realize something most designers know – anyone can be a designer. As Steve Jobs said, design is not about how it looks, but how it works. 

And when you reframe design around that idea, you realize that people are always designing – whether it’s illustrating a robot or structuring your work schedule or putting together a birthday party or even the way you dress and speak, design is the tool you use to craft the experience. Everyone can conceptualize ideas and the intrinsic nature of design as fluid and malleable means anyone has a shot at it. It was in conversation with Hasan Habib, who founded Karachi-based experience design agency Designist, that a more relevant framing of the question “Who can be a designer?” popped up – just because anyone can be a designer does not mean they are good designers. 

Maheen, a UI/UX Designer at Venture Dive, told me when she worked as a graphic designer, it was all about designing from her perspective. What colors she liked, what styles she wanted to emulate, her work was meant centered on her. But when she switched to service design, she realized there, design is about the other. You have to know how your users will respond to your design and then iteratively work on it to improve your user’s experience. Hasan said it is not necessarily about problem solving but holding interventions. You have to consider the impact of your design, whether positive or negative, and think of design as the process through which you improve. Good design is often centered on disability. When you design around those normally excluded, your design’s reach is extended. 

Consider these examples from Kat Holmes’ Inclusive Toolkit: Closed captioning was created for the hard of hearing community. But, there are many benefits of captioning such as reading in a crowded airport, or, teaching children how to read. Similarly, high-contrast screen settings were initially made to benefit people with vision impairments. But today, many people benefit from high-contrast settings when they use a device in bright sunlight. The same is true for remote controls, automatic door openers, audiobooks, email, and much more. Designing with constraints in mind is simply designing well. 

The concept of inclusive design is crucial in designing for Pakistan. In my work, I have found that my audience is semi-literate and uncomfortable with technology. I work on designing the experience of the UBL Digital App. When I speak to some of our less tech-savvy users, I understand how their fears of making mistakes, especially when moving money is involved, prevent them from using the app more often. For example, they’re afraid of having entered the wrong amount in a funds transfer or having chosen the wrong payee, so we make sure a review screen clearly shows all their transaction details. But through usability testing, we learnt it was not apparent to them that there would be a review screen. So instead of relying on a gesture-based button or iconography, our button says “Review.” 

Remember, this is a teachability moment, you can make them learn a behaviour. If we can get our user to familiarize themselves with the icon for Review, we can slowly start phasing out the text. This is where one of the cornerstones of experience design comes in – knowing your persona. Involve the person you are designing for in the design process, right from the beginning to when the research starts to the end, when the product is ready for usability testing. Over at UBL’s Digital Design Lab, our process starts with research – if we’re improving a process already in place or redesigning a feature, we speak with our customers, we observe them use the feature, and we pull demographical data on the set of customers who already use the feature. This helps us define our persona. We also scan the local and global market to compare experience and garner insight on how others have designed the same feature. Side by side, we start mapping system architecture and process flow to understand the technical component of how the feature works. Once we’re satisfied with our research, we host workshops and ideation sessions that involve all relevant stakeholders – product owners, developers, ui/ux designers, bank tellers, regulators, data scientists, experience designers etc. And of course, present at these workshops are our personas. At the end, we have a service blueprint, a prototype, and a phase-wise approach to how we can launch the new and improved feature. In my time as a designer, I have learnt to view design as a way to create experiences that can make lives phenomenal. And because design is an iterative process, you know the next iteration will always be better.

Fatin Nawaz did her undergraduate in computer science and comparative literature. Now she works as a designer at UBL’s Digital Design Lab. In her free time, she runs an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan account.

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