Start with why I’m stealing Simon Sinek’s for this one; start with why. It’s a generic catchphrase, but it’s an excellent action point for an important question; why are we doing this? Why do we engage in creating a solution for this problem? Scientifically we should begin by asking questions. In the design practice, asking questions belongs to the Understand phase. The Understand phase is where we analyse the briefing, a summarised version of the business/client concerns, on a specific problem. It could also include guidelines and rules about the scope of a potential solution. Our mission, as designers, is to respond to the briefing by working on an answer. But it’s important to underline that the Understand phase is just the beginning of a more extensive process. It’s where we listen, and with that, we source the material that feeds and inspires the next steps of the Cogs of Design. Listen and collect To begin, we have to be curious and open to listen. We should ask all the questions that arise from our innate curiosity, a designer’s trait. We need to develop our understanding and care about the problem. It’s where we originate so-called empathy and see how people think and feel about the problem. To do this, we need to contact people directly, contact the stakeholders, the makers, the sellers, the customer support teams, but, more importantly, the products’ users, the audience, the humans that will interact with what we’ll do, with what we’ll help output — it’s a big responsibility. We can engage with the users in numerous ways. The obvious is by directly interviewing and getting the user’s opinion, but we can access data too indirectly. Both ways, and aside from the user itself, we can also get the user’s feedback from the support teams, salesman, analytic trackers, entities holding the numbers, and any interaction records (videos, photographs, screenshots, audios, etc.). The most important thing to note here is getting the users’ feedback to understand them. To see why they would face a problem and why they get frustrated or don’t use the product as easily as we initially expected. The users are the ones who will be interacting with our future solution and determine the product’s success. Without the users’ proper feedback, the resulting product will have high chances of failure and undermine the laborious development cycle, increase costs to the environment and society. Put ourselves in their shoes We know nothing about the project’s problem if we never experienced it or felt it on our skin. We need to empty ourselves from dogmas, meditate and cleanse our designer’s body from dangerous premature assumptions. Assuming that something will turn out exactly as we think will result in a high possibility of catastrophe. Our brain will immediately seek a solution. Still, without the proper investigation and search for data and opinion to back it up, we end up with our hands filled with hollow assumptions. We have to be kind and put ourselves in the shoes of the end-user. Because this is the only spontaneous way to think and feel like the users, understand their frustrations, needs, and desires of having something, a solution that works and could improve their lives. To be empathetic with the users, we need to acknowledge their emotions and see how they react to the product. We need to understand the reasoning behind their feelings towards a specific process of usage. Only after understanding their emotions we can try to address those feelings and revisit them when, for example, we expose a prototype before the user. We can run the test of observing if the same feelings occur if the same emotions happen. Permission to think It’s not uncommon to come up with a solution spontaneously, during observation and while posing questions. Sometimes, the answer comes so quickly that maybe it’s just obvious; perhaps it really is the right solution. Of course, nothing comes by as easy because we still need to fact check. Is it the right solution? Do we want to risk all money on something that we don’t know how it performs yet? This doesn’t mean that we have to castrate our brain for premature ideas. It just means that we have to take note, yes, we have a possible solution; let’s try it out and investigate its practicality. There is some talent in finding the right solution straight away. Most of the time, this rush of ideas is based on intuition and probably a deep knowledge of the problem before hands. This is precisely why asking the right questions is essential. We might be knowledgeable enough about the issue, which puts us in an excellent position to develop a solution. But it’s the methodological approach that is important; it prepares us. It makes us see things from afar and close by enough to be emotional and at the same time rational about the context. Sometimes the solution really is around the corner. All we have to do is pick it up, make a note of it, and run it through the design process. Summary We start the Cogs of Design by asking questions, by being curious. We do our best to respond to the briefing by reading it thoroughly. To understand how people feel about a product, we listen and open ourselves to their emotions. If not enough, we look into the evidence; we search through data and facts collected so far about the usage of the product. And we do not block ourselves from starting to ideate. If ideas come through, they must become humble enough to await validation and fact-checking.