When you 'do design', it comes home with you. Crumpled up post-its fall out of your pockets, your kitchen table is crowded with user research, you read books on typography in the bath. Human-centered design, to me, is a set of problem-solving tools. I've not only brought them home, I've turned them on myself, because I think design is for lovers.
I met Thomas in Cambridge, Mass. a couple of weeks before graduating from college. He's lanky, loves science fiction and is my favorite person on the planet. We moved out to California together a few years ago, worked ourselves into a stupor, then recently left our jobs to work on design/engineering projects together.
Ah, relationships are disorienting and wonderful - they are a knotted bundle of the emotions and experiences of two people. Perhaps there is a unicorn couple out there in the ether somewhere that has never had a disagreement over where to live, or a misunderstanding over wording (if you do exist. Picsplz!). Most of us have to work to understand our partner, and you might as well have a methodology.
To me, design isn't about 'fixing', or 'studying' your guy or gal, just as design isn't about fixing or studying your users. It is about intentionality, empathy and respect. It is about having a suggestion for moving forward when you're stuck on something. Why shouldn't we take the marvelous toolkit that we use professionally and make our lives better?
I'll admit, both working with the man I love and applying design to our relationship is really scary at times. Last night we went out on a limb and tried an exercise that teams do at the d.school quite often. We both came up with "I like" and "I wish" statements about our work together. The results were fantastic, actionable, and fixable.
"I wish you would ask me for code reviews more often so we can talk about where you can improve. Sometimes I feel like I'm pushing you to go back and fix things when you don't want to."
To be honest, I hadn't realized that a.) he was going back through my code and b.) had found some rough edges. That kind of sharing is pretty cool and probably headed off a few awkward conversations about the things he'd changed.
Now, most of us don't work professionally with our partners, but we do decide where to live, what to watch on Netflix, and how to raise children. Those are some serious decisions. Why wouldn't we use every tool at our disposal to live well and care for our partners? In my mind, design is for lovers.
An earlier version of this post was published on pocketknife.io.
Have you applied design to your personal life lately? I'd love to hear how. Please share in the comments below!