Design Without Thought

"People shouldn't really have to think about an object when they are using it. Not having to think about it makes the relationship between a person and an object run more smoothly. Finding ideas in people's spontaneous behavior and realizing these ideas in design is what Without Thought is about."

Naoto Fukasawa on his "Without Thought" design philosophy

When you drink a glass water, you don't think about the glass. When you're writing, you don't think about the pen.

So what is great user experience? For me, it's when people don't have to think about using an object, they just use it.

I want to tell you a bit about one of my design heroes: Naoto Fukasawa, a Japanese industrial designer. Since the 80's Fukasawa has created hundreds of innovative product designs. These range from wrist watches, to armchairs. He has an established philosophy that he follows -- one I try to carry through my work here at Code. He calls it 'Without Thought'.

What is 'Without Thought'?

In an interview with Dwell magazine, Fukasawa describes a feeling I am sure we are all too familiar with as designers: we often want to make something special, an experience, an object that really catches people's attention.

However, Fukasawa points out that when someone actually uses a product, it doesn't matter to them whether or not it's special. With this in mind, Fukasawa has built his 'Without Thought' philosophy based on observing peoples subconscious behaviour.

"Interacting with a design should be like walking..."

Fukasawa uses walking as an analogy for using a product. As we pace forward, we choose the surface for each step intuitively. This does not mean we are not thinking; rather our subconscious works when parts of our body such as our feet and legs recognise our enviroment and react to the situation.

Fukasawa looks at people's subconscious behaviour as a driver when it comes to design; he calls this "design dissolving in behaviour", as good design will dissolve naturally into our behaviour and is incorporated into our lifestyle without thought.

When asked by DesignApplause what type of projects he likes, Fukasawa simply answered, "I like projects that make life better". This is what makes Fukasawa distinct as a designer. His focus is not on pointless innovation, the big 'wow'. He creates objects to better the relation between an object and the people that use it, and his designs allow people to behave naturally as they use an object.

"The skill of design is in translating observations"

In my experience, there's a misconception that design is about being able to magic up solutions out of thin air. But when we try and do this, more often than not we're just guessing at solutions. I believe the true skill of a designer is to observe the world around them, understand and interpret it, and then go with their gut.

That is why it's so important to observe how users behave with products, and that includes how they interact online.

As a digital agency, we need to gain an understanding of users subconscious thought processes by continuously prototyping, testing and developing the work we do. By investing time in getting this stuff right, we're able to develop solutions that are 'Without Thought'.

I have a post it permanently stuck to my laptop: that simply says "design without thought". It reminds me why I do this job. I love to create products that aren't innovative for the sake of it; I create experiences that strive to make things better and to improve people's relationships with the websites and digital products they use.


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