Human Centric Design: The Power of “And”.

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I recently went through a full-day workshop/training on Human Centric Design at Macquarie (Where I work). It was a great initiative to teach us about a new methodology and give us a new perspective on problem-solving. As developers, we tend to be so focused on our daily tasks and JIRA tickets, we develop a stronger inclination to jump into solutions. This was a very interesting deep dive into taking a step back and looking at the problem from a top-down perspective.

Now, we covered a LOT in that training but there was one thing that stood out to me the most. That’s why I want to take you through the “Power of And”.

A small game

Before we dive into the theory of it all, I’d like to walk you through a game of sorts, that we played in our discussions.

One person would begin a statement, like, “I want to host a party on a weekday” and everyone else would go one by one to add on to that by saying, “but, …”

The responses were pretty straightforward.

“But, can we keep it early? We have work the next day.”

“But, can we postpone it? I have some errands to run.”

“But, can we take it easy on the drinks? It is a weekday.”

The next round of statements had the same seed. However, this time, we were told to prefix our response with an “and”.

Now, the responses were interesting.

“And, I will take care of the music.”

“And, I will bring brownies for everyone.”

“And, I will take care of the party games. I know so many!”

and so on.

It quickly became very clear to the room which party they’d rather attend. This was the “Aha!” moment for all of us and we knew exactly what they were trying to get at.

“And” vs. “But”

What we realized was that this principle is universal. When we approach HCD (Human Centric Design), it’s important to keep in mind that our discussions should be inclusive and collaborative. That is the backbone of an innovative and creative process.

“And” and “But” have different implications when it comes to design. The word “And” suggests that multiple elements or considerations are being taken into account, whereas the word “but” implies a trade-off or compromise.

When we use “And,” we are focusing on adding multiple elements to the design that will benefit the user. This approach is often used when trying to improve a product or service by adding new features or functionality. For example, a design team might say “we want to add a new feature that allows users to customize their settings and improve the overall user experience.”

“But” implies that there is a limitation or trade-off that needs to be made. Let’s say our discussion sounded something like, “we want to make the product more aesthetically pleasing, but it may increase the cost of production.” In this case, we’ve defined the potential constraints.

What this achieves?

I believe that using “and” is a very crucial element of brainstorming. This mindset allows for multiple perspectives and ideas to be considered, leading to more diverse and innovative solutions. It also fosters a culture of experimentation and exploration, which is essential for driving creative thinking.

Looking over to the other side, leading with “But” can negatively impact us. We may be more likely to dismiss ideas that seem too difficult or impossible to implement. This can stifle creativity and lead to more conservative and less impactful decisions.

It’s a healthy practice to lead discussions in an open-ended manner that lends itself to creativity, even if it means some ideas are just too far out. It’s okay to be wild, right?


Now, I consider myself to be a skeptic. Maybe, even more so than I’d like to admit. So, this little exercise opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. I do feel there is a balance though. As much as we all should encourage more open-ended discussions with wild detours and surprises, it is also crucial to reel it back together and understand the implications of it all.

  • It can help us make more informed decisions by considering the potential consequences of different options and finding solutions that balance competing goals.
  • It can encourage critical thinking. By considering the limitations and trade-offs of different options, we can identify potential issues and come up with solutions that mitigate them.
  • It can help us prioritize our goals and streamline our final thoughts. Considering the constraints that we are working with can create a good “ranking” of priority. This, in turn, lends itself to the road mapping of new avenues.

In the right dose, it can be a powerful tool to improve the process.

As an example

Let’s say, we have a meal planning/grocery list app that we want to design. Let’s also assume we start from scratch and just want an easy-to-use app with accurate data tracking.

Knowing nothing, we might jump the gun and rush to solutions. This would be a surefire way of letting “buts” take over the process. As an example, we might say,

“Oh, we can try to track dietary restrictions, but it’ll make everything so complex”.

At that point, we’ve already dismissed what could be the Wow! factor of our application.

However, if we just take a moment to pull back, and apply a step-by-step process of researching users and competing platforms, we might conclude that this feature stands out as a must-have.

Now, our discussions would be a lot more collaborative and inclusive of that pain point. We would be more inclined to say,

“We should track dietary restrictions”.

“Oh Yeah! And, we can tag all items and filter by restriction. Maybe, we can suggest alternative grocery items (like vegetarian oyster sauce) as well!”

“Sweet. And, let’s just look around to see if we can use ML here to personalize those meals.”

Our thought process has immediately switched over to accepting and exploring new wild ideas. Of course, this is just a watered-down scenario but the gist remains. Additionally, this is when we can introduce the “buts” to seal everything together and hone in on what we want to do.

Wrap up

As I sat down to write this piece, I certainly did feel like I walked away with a new pair of lenses as I grow in my career and my life. I’m curious about the endless opportunities in my daily life where I can infuse these principles.

Here’s to many more tidbits and such.