ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Design and Innovation in the Context of Life’s Problems

Posted by Plish on December 31, 2010

“Jacob,” asked Mr. Gold whose days dangled by a thread, “where do you find the strength to carry on in life?”

“Life is often heavy only because we attempt to carry it,” said Jacob. “But I do find strength in the ashes.”

“In the ashes?” asked Mr. Gold.

“Yes,” said Jacob with a confirmation that seemed to have traveled a great distance.

“You see, Mr. Gold, each of us is alone. Each of us is in the great darkness of our ignorance. And each of us is on a journey.

“In the process of our journey, we must bend to build a fire for light, and warmth, and food.

“But when our fingers tear at the ground, hoping to find the coals of another’s fire, what we often find are the ashes.

“And in these ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony.

“Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night, somebody else has bent to build a fire, and somebody else has carried on.

“And that can be enough sometimes, that can be enough.”

-Jacob the Baker, by Noah benShea

The above story, taken from the delightful book, Jacob the Baker, was written by the author to help him and his dying father through the night. The words are profound and meaningful, especially for those people who are going through difficult times.

Ahhh, difficult times…

I am only now, finally getting my new computer and business systems running again.  If not for some annoyances that pop up every now and then, I can hardly tell that a little over a week ago my CPU/motherboard melted down in the midst of deadlines and the holidays.  Before that…

Fast rewind with me for a year and, like other people,  along the way you’ll  experience family illness, accidents, pain, even death…

This laptop debacle pales in comparison to the other things that happened over the course of a year.  Yet, this technological glitch was a frustrating event that meant schedule manipulation, late, sleepless nights, and more intense days. It did nothing to foster a more peaceful approach to the holidays.

Why do I bring this all up?

People’s lives can get extraordinarily messy.  In the midst of chaos, humans naturally seek some semblance of order. During those times, more than in others,  people expect things to work – especially the little things.  When the little things don’t work, it can push our patience to the limit.  We’ve all been there.

Interestingly enough, seldom do the design of products and services take this larger context of chaos into account.  Oh, sure, products are (hopefully!) designed to be easy to use, intuitive, and  pleasing.  Designers strive for empathy with people to make sure that they really understand what people are going through in their daily lives.  But it’s difficult to design for the effect that time and stress can have on people and how they go about living day to day.

Designing a sterile package that’s easy to open in an Emergency Room is not the same as making a package easy to open in an ER where a family of  six is coming in from a head-on collision – 14 hours into a shift in which more people have been lost than saved; the head nurse’s husband asked her for a divorce that morning; another’s child got sick in daycare so he had to call his brother to pick the child up; one ER doc’s car broke down and still isn’t repaired, another nurse is home with the flu; the only food anyone consumed has been a bag of Halloween candy, multiple soft drinks, 2 energy bars, and a bag of chips; and the ER is going to be audited the next day. That’s just the last 24 hours for this crew…

“Easy to open” takes on different meanings depending upon  the extent to which people have been stressed prior to opening the package.

 Now granted, not every person is going to be swamped 24/7.  There is respite in even the most hectic lives.    But I think we’ve all seen people become blubbering messes over something that just a week earlier was accomplished without any thought or emotion.  

Think, no, dream of what our lives would be like if things were designed so that even in our most frazzled states, the use of a product or service caused us to crack a smile, or pause, breathe and savor a flickering moment of peace.   What if, designing innovation meant that during those frantic times of searching through the ashes, someone made sure that we actually found a hot, glowing ember?

May you not only find encouragement in the ashes,

may you also find glowing embers – enough for you and enough to share.

I wish all of you a safe, healthy, wonder-filled 2011 and beyond!

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