A crash course in human-centred design (HCD) at Namahn tempted Emilie away from academia to a career applying theory in practice. Emilie brings her critical researcher’s eye to control room and interaction design, looking beyond the hype at the true potential of emerging technologies and is a champion of inclusive design.
What convinced you to join Namahn?
I really enjoy writing and research, so after my Communication Science Masters at the Vrij Universiteit Brussel (VUB), I toyed with the idea of locking myself into 4-5 years writing a doctorate. But to do this you need life experience and especially experience of the business world… HCD was on my radar; I just didn’t know it was an actual profession. Namahn offers the best of both worlds. I can still conduct research – the culture supports this – but I also get to see the theory applied.
Why is research important for a designer?
Part of our job as designers is to bring clarity, by which I mean provide grounded arguments around what can and can’t be done with new and emerging technologies. Every now and then there are huge hypes. Due to this, people are not always clear about how or if these technologies could be useful in their particular context. They think they need them all. For example, gamification was once seen as the Holy Grail. We still use aspects of gamification when relevant, but without using all of it all the time. With each new evolution, our role is to help our clients to see that they don’t need it all to be successful. Then they can cherry pick.
Why is the IT industry still susceptible to hypes?
I believe it is due to our failure to educate children and young people to understand technology. We only teach them how to use it. At age of 12, we place an incredibly powerful computer (smartphone) in their hands. How does it work? What about the dangers? How can they recognize right from wrong? This is a systemic problem I would love Namahn to tackle.
What is inclusive design and is it applicable to every context?
Thanks to a project focusing on the deaf and their functioning in society with Doof Vlaanderen, Namahn has become acutely aware of factoring in the needs of what we term the “underserved” in every design, without losing sight of the client’s business goals. This good practice is cascaded down to all our projects. So, while most clients can identify their main stakeholders, the first questions I like to ask are: Who else should we include? What are we not seeing? What values are we trying to represent? Making presumptions is risky…
How does this roll out in practice?
A good example is control rooms. We not only design the digital interface but also the layout of the physical space and visitor experience. By opening up another perspective on the users, small adjustments can be made to include more people and improve the performance of these safety-critical environments. Should a desk be higher, or toilets made more accessible? What about the visuals on the screens? Colours are used to signify certain situations, a typical one being red for danger. What if a user is colour blind or the interface will be used worldwide by different cultures? In both cases, adding an icon would add an extra layer of comprehension for these audiences. Inclusive design means making something people already know about more visible. It extends to how we draw scenarios, down to the colour of skin of the personas in our final deliverables.
Which aspect of Namahn’s work culture do you value most?
The fact we work in clusters, as small teams to grow our knowledge and expertise in specific areas. We then move to new areas and start the learning process again. It’s a never-ending cycle.
The joy of life is not in the great achievements but in the little victories, finding pleasure in the small things.