They Call Her The Head Dreamer
At "What Design Can Do" in Amsterdam, Nokia’s “Head Dreamer” Younghee Jung will address the audience on research and how technology can facilitate social change.
“To stay relevant designers need to broaden their perspective,” says Korean designer Younghee Jung. “They should not only focus on the craftsmanship that comes with product design or typography, but reinvent themselves as thinkers.”
Jung herself is a living embodiment of her words. Although a designer by education, as “Head Dreamer” at Nokia UK she is no longer involved in the actual design process of specific products. Her approach has become far broader. At the second What Design Can Do conference this year in Amsterdam, she will talk about how the design industry can fit into the broader picture as well as how designers can keep up with and cope with a challenging future.
The focus, she thinks, is more about designing links between people, and coordinating their interactions so that they become smoother and more meanigful.
“Craftsmanship, which lies at the root of product design and typography will always remain important,” she says, “but at the same time, certain specific crafts are these days more limited in their importance and are thus in danger of disappearing.”
She looks to social trends and particularly web design as an example. When the Internet really started to explode in the mid 90s, web design was a complex and technical task. These days bloggers without much technical knowledge can easily create their own site by themselves via templates offered by sites like Wordpress. Create an account, pick a theme, post your work, and within minutes, or even seconds, the whole world can read your thoughts on world affairs – or your diary. Nobody needs a web designer anymore. “Changes like these will probably come quite unexpectedly,” Jung warns.
At Nokia, Jung works as part of the marketing team. “It’s a strange experience to work in a marketing department,” she says. “But it reflects the new role designers can play. My present work has nothing to do with the craftsmanship or the design process, because I’m not involved in making actual products. My work is about coordinating the human activity necessary to design and make the product.”
Her present position captures the opportunities that she thinks more designers should be accessing and making the most of. Product design is all about trying to see the world through the eyes of the end user. What does the user want? How can we let the user satisfy these demands in the easiest way possible?
This all requires a designer to see the world through someone else’s eyes. “A good designer has empathy,” says Jung. This empathy is the modern designer’s biggest asset.
“Designers should go beyond products and their usage,” Jung continues. “We need to use our understanding of how design works and how designers think, but from a different perspective. Only then can we start to influence how people and processes are managed. That’s why I talk about ‘empathetic design’.”
Jung might be seen as a specialist in empathetic thinking. She was born and raised in Korea, but has since lived and worked in countries like the USA, India, Finland, Japan, and now the UK. She has had to adjust to many different work and social surroundings.
A designer can put the skill of empathetic thinking immediately to work. “Ideally designers are the driving power in the creation process,” Jung says. “They shouldn’t be thinking just about the end-user, but also about the people that make the product. The interaction between all the different disciplines that conflate to make a product – designers, engineers, business and marketing people – is extremely complicated and full of pit-holes. Nobody can singularly dictate that process.”
Added to that a designer never maintains control over how the end user comes to really own and use a product anyway. “Before I had the experience of living in so many countries, I was always interested in the humanitarian mission,” Jung says. “How we can make design make changes in people’s lives. What I’m learning now, is that there’s a thin line between thinking that we (as designers) can somehow help people, and becoming patronizing. Telling someone how to organize their lives, for example, is not helpful, and ultimately unsuccessful.
“Designers can be very ambitious in how they plan to go about changing people’s lives,” Jung continues, “but that’s really hard. People don’t change that quickly. Designers must reflect upon the boundaries they face. Human relationships and the way they develop are really complicated. With mobile phones we facilitate interaction between people. But people will for themselves decide how they will use such a tool, and how they will let it change their lives. Once again, empathetic thinking – being able to understand how people think – might give us some clue beforehand on what that future will look like. Designers can do a lot, but shouldn’t think they can change the world. Making a good design itself is hard enough as it is.”
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