There's a great website I stumbled upon this week called Farmer and Farmer. It's a short series of thought provoking essays on technology and society. My favorite (so far) is The Heart of the Builder.
The essay discusses a difference between asking people what they want vs building what's best for the future. It's an almost parent-child relationship. My kids may want to eat Buddy the Elf spaghetti for dinner, but as the parent I know there are better meals.
I was especially challenged by this passage...
The danger in user-centered design is that it releases the designer of the responsibility for having a vision for the world. Why have one when we can just ask users what they want? But our job as builders is to create the world as it could be.
After spending the last 6 years working in startups that lean towards user-driven feedback informing design, this rings true. It's easy to do in content businesses as well. Measure the metrics that go up, make more of those videos, write more of those newsletters = profit!
The responsibility is real but I think most builders are reluctant to embrace it. Most builders become the way they are by not accepting the status quo. That feeling in the back of the mind that resists being told what to do is then resistant to tell other people what to do. But then no one accepts responsibility for making the world (or even just a part of it) better.
The entire essay (and site) is worth reading through. There's more about how the purpose of a tool aligns with the purpose of the builder by strengthening both. The author defines them as cyclical tools...
Every tool should nourish the things upon which it depends. Cyclical tools are like trees, whose falling leaves fertilize the soil in which they grow.
As I plan work, content, and products in the new year, this is an essay I'll be thinking about a lot. I hope you find it thought provoking as well!