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Design is the skill at the heart of innovation and development.

Designers are everywhere. They not only designed the interface on your phone, but the alignment of the buttons and holes, and the chips that make it run. Designers hold job titles like “Systems Support Manager”, “Full Stack Developer” as well as “Visual Designer” or “User Interface Engineer”. Designers use words, bricks and drills as well as sketch pads and Photoshop.

“Writing is design. You are a designer” Yes! Thanks @mjmetts @EllenGeraghty, May 21, 2015

Design is about getting it right. Not just the look, the functionality or the colour scheme, but also the little things that make people feel good about a product or service. Rene Ritchie tells us why it’s important in this article, where she tells us why the alignment of screw holes and brand labels matters as much as the OS in a Samsung Galaxy S6 or an iPhone 6.

samsung apple No matter which side of the argument about whether this “matters” you come down on, everyone seems to agree that a key part of good design, beyond functionality and reliability is desirability. It’s irrelevant that your design is viable or feasible. Those are givens. Desirability is one of those unquantifiable factors that breeds success.

If it’s unquantifiable, how do you design for desirability?

For the majority of people in the first world, choice is always available. You may choose to abstain from certain options (like Facebook) but you will have had the experience of a superfluity of choice. Who hasn’t downloaded an app and never used it, or used it once and then forgotten about it? Yet there are other apps that have no clearer purpose (Facebook, again) that we use every day, or many times per day.

One answer is that the desirable app isn’t afraid to get it wrong. The makers of the desirable app have likely been through many iterations and taken many wrong turns to discover what works. They’ve lived the product they’re creating, to understand not how it feels to be a designer, but how it feels to be a user.

Design isn’t just trying lots of variations until people aren’t complaining anymore, but doing your research up front to find out what it is that people need.

A design for life

Patricia Moore completed a PhD in design in the US in the late 1970s. She spent three years living as an elderly woman, in order to experience the needs of older people.

Ford Motor Company built a third age suit, to mimic the limitations of mobility, capability and agility experienced by the elderly to help them build a car suited to that market.

Building for the user in financial services

In fintech, the user is a highly specialised, busy professional. They use multiple systems at once, interacting with screens, phones and human beings on a second by second basis. They want information and functionality immediately, reliably and clearly. This is the metric of desirability in the investment banking or insurance world.

At Tobias & Tobias, we’ve been designing these systems for over ten years, winning awards and repeat business from clients such Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Bupa. We have a mantra: discover, learn, ideate.

For example, think of a user matrix for selling life insurance. If you work in insurance, you might make one that looks like this:

The problem here is that it’s just a set of different size wallets. The result is this:

On this user matrix, both of these 66 year old white men of ultra high net worth on their second marriage get the same product. These are the two men:

Anyone want to insure them on the same product?

Desirability in the financial services world reduces complexity, but not to the point of absurdity. The more data you can gather about your client, the better you can serve them. Knowing how much they earn, what risks they take with their health or wellbeing, and where they park their car are just the basics. Using this information in combination with data they provide via telematic devices, their online behaviour and wearable devices can allow for powerful analysis of their profile for a range of products from the financial services sector.

Designing for the way people really live their lives is desirable for both the insurer and insured.

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