Alumnus Nadeem Haidary on “Rethinking Users”


Nadeem Haidary, an Industrial Design alumnus from Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design (BA '09), recently released Rethinking Users from BIS Publishers. Rethinking Users, designed and illustrated by Haidary, is a book and toolkit written by design researchers Mike Youngblood and Ben Chesluk. It outlines an approach the authors call "user ecosystem thinking."

"We see it as a provocation for those designing products and services to think more expansively about the people who use the things you create," said Haidary. "It provides some very practical tools that we hope readers apply to better serving overlooked users and discovering new ones you hadn't known existed."

Rethinking Users is half book, half toolkit, with user archetype cards and exercises packaged all together in the box. The six exercises help teams map their current user ecosystem and think up new ways of designing for overlooked user archetypes.

"We set out to make the approach useful for designers and design researchers, as well as anyone who is creating or managing products and services," said Haidary. "The approach was iterated on with students and clients in fields as diverse as consumer electronics, urban planning, law and medicine."

But why is it important to "rethink the user?"

"Over the past few decades, designers realized that deeply understanding and designing for a product's user leads to more effective design solutions," explained Haidary. "But in today's complex, technologically interconnected world our normal conception of the 'user' is incomplete and based on outdated notions of simple, direct relationships between people and products. It misses out on other types of users that are almost always overlooked or ignored.

"If our notion of the 'user' is deficient, our design of products and services is likely to be as well."

"Our approach is unique, but we're not the only ones who have identified problems with human-centered design," continued Haidary. "Other designers and researchers have made independent critiques of how human-centered design obscures some people participating in the design. Where our approach is different is in creating a very practical framework to design for experiences that are more mindful of the broader range of people who are touched by products and services—we call it user ecosystem thinking."

Today, Haidary works at Amazon Lab126, where he designs hardware products incorporating emerging technology. Prior to Amazon Lab126, Haidary spent most of his career in design consulting, working at places like Smart Design, Gravitytank and Salesforce Ignite, and even taught courses on design and prototyping at UC Berkeley and Stanford.

"One of the best parts of my career is that I got to work with many people that I went to school with along the way, as colleagues, contractors, and clients," said Haidary. "My now wife and I were both ID (Industrial Design) students and worked together for many years, and many of my closest friends to this day were classmates."

Looking back at his time at the School of Design, Haidary fondly remembers drawing cubes with Mark Baskinger and Mark Mentzer, entering the world of data, programming and interactive art with Golan Levin, and embarking on the possibilities each new project proposed.

"I really loved to push the absolute creative limit of our project briefs," said Haidary. "Like when we were asked to design an accessible product for the vision-impaired for Junior ID Studio I decided to create a camera for blind people. Or for a DataViz class with (Former Nierenberg Chair) Ben Fry and Golan Levin I decided to map fictional literature to try to find potential convergences between characters in different novels. I discovered for instance that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll spent time in the same park in 1869 London."

"For me the School of Design was about a shared studio culture that encouraged creative inquiry and finding ways to make good ideas tangible and useful," added Haidary. "The studio brought together design students pursuing different tracks in a shared space. Throughout my career, I've been able to easily cross boundaries between physical, graphic, digital and strategic design—more so than industry peers—with much of that learning happening by being around designers in other disciplines very early on."

More info on Rethinking Users >>

Buy Rethinking Users on Amazon >>

Nadeem Haidary's Website >>

Date Published: 
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
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