It’s no secret that I’m fascinated by design thinking.

We’re increasingly connected to, by, and with “things.” So how we interact with objects and devices – and that we can interact with them — becomes less a question of convenience and more a universal imperative.

Function is no longer “nice to have.”

From material design to smart cities, people are looking at how to put design and technology to use – together.

Enter Microsoft, which is studying disability as a design problem. There’s a long precedence for this work, as made clear in a long article in Fast Company about Microsoft’s design initiative. Think the advent of the typewriter, the telephone, and even email.

There are no normal humans.

Evolution

In the Fast Company article, the author writes, in part:

We don’t simply have a persona, fixed in time and plastered on a storyboard, like most design processes would have it. We have a persona spectrum. When you’re a parent with a sprained wrist, or you’re reaching for your phone while holding your groceries, you share a world, albeit briefly, with someone who has only ever been able to use one hand. “There is no such thing as a normal human,” [Kat Holmes, Microsoft’s principal design director] says. “Our capabilities are always changing.”

Read the article. I think Microsoft is onto something very important, and we need to pay attention.

Another piece, that this article doesn’t directly address, is language. It could be written, symbolic, auditory, haptic, or some combination thereof. If we have increasingly universal technology but not a universal language for interacting with our machines, will this leave a portion of the population behind?

Google Translate can help only so much. And Cortana, Siri, and other online assistants are also only as good as their programming and voice recognition allow.

I can’t even speak emoji.

Designing shape-changing devices.

While Microsoft is tackling digital design, others are of course focused on environmental design. Sean Follmer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, gave a TedEx talk on designing shape-changing interfaces. In it, he asks:

What if we stop thinking about devices and think instead about environments? … How can we have smart furniture … or smart cities that can adapt to us physically and allow us to do new ways of collaborating with people and new types of tasks?

Watch Follmer’s talk.

I’m not an expert on design thinking, so I can’t tell you how it will impact business. But I can tell you that it will.

Feature photo by Christian Guthler; Evolution by Brian Wright (Flickr).