Designing relationship

Photo credit: @BrookeCagle

Here is a blog post on ‘a project’ I am currently working on or perhaps living with. It is about using design approach to build a relationship. In a more designerly term, that is taking the relationship as an object for design.

A six-week project (A design sprint)

The project started as an experiment last year to actively design my relationship with my partner and currently it is a work-in-progress. Putting our designers’ silly hat on, we thought:

‘why not to start a six-week design project to build our relationship’.

Then each two-weeks we assigned ourselves a development goal with a set of tasks to work together. The idea was simply to adopt a new product development mindset to design relationship. A typical double diamond design process with four stages (e.g. discover, define, design and develop) was used in this six-week project to structure the development. We also apply lots of design methods to understand the challenges and come up with solutions for those emerged from the project. And it turned out to be quite fresh and exciting approach to be in a relationship. And at the end of first 6 weeks, we decided to continue for another 6 weeks, which we took it as a second phase. Then another 6 weeks. another 6 weeks. Now we happen to keep rolling this design project and stay together for a year!

Inspiration at the beginning

At the very beginning, We were very inspired by a TED talk given by a linguistic expert on how the metaphor we used to describe love shall be re-thought.

“Love is a collaborative work of art” — Mandy Len Catron.

There are so many other interesting perspective shared by other professionals, such as divorce lawyers

Casey and Candice #couplestherapy

A design thinking approach:

It feels like the relationship has been a common and crucial ‘object’ that we experience and live with day in and day out. However, they aren’t properly ‘designed’ with a professional design approach to it.

It feels like that everybody is ‘DIY’ their own relationship but perhaps unconsciously falls into the same template from a mainstream pop culture.

Research questions

As a service designer, I was thinking about what if we can shine a bit light on this subject through a design perspective. Taking a designer’s hat on, I was asking myself the following question:

  1. What if we can design relationship as if this is another ‘wicked problem’!

2. What are the elements/qualities in relationship that we can actively design on?

3. What are the design processes and design methods we can use to design the relationship?

Taking these questions forward, we started to carefully observe and record the experience about our relationship. It means basically doing user research and user testing on ourselves and relationship.

Insights so far

Here are a few work-in-progress insights we want to share in this post.

1. Interaction design works for designing relationship.

At the end of the day, relationship is about feelings towards each other. Those feelings are constructed through the experience of daily events (we call this touch-points in service design). If we can think about designing those interaction carefully, especially those interfaces that enables interaction (e.g. phone, cafe, cinema, google docs, etc), then there are more precise experience we can start to create together.

2. Relationship needs consistency to build trust.

We realised that trust is an important element in relationships. The insightful truth is that trust comes from the consistency in interactions. The non-consistent interaction, especially dramatic up-and-downs with each other, may create frictions in trust. Hence, we spent lots of time to build such consistent patterns to form a trust. We have experimented a different set of consistent patterns in our daily life. It really builds up visibility of each other’s life and steers away some typical anxieties in relationships.

3. Relationship has to be co-designed.

We quickly found out there shouldn’t be a design dictatorship for our relationship. As any experience in the relationship is often shared by both, the way of how we collaborate becomes critical to the quality of ‘the work’ we enjoy both. We started to use lots of co-design methods and processes to design those experiences. It turned out that not only the end product we like better, but also the co-creation process contributes the most to our relationship. Through the co-design, we talked more and understand each other more. It seems this co-creation itself enables more communication and shared understanding between ourselves.

To Be Continued….




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Jonny Jiang, PhD

Jonny Jiang, PhD

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