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Meet the Host! Interview with Human-Centered Designer, Jonathan Morgan

By: Madeleine Coyne

We at The Front Porch People are thrilled to have the amazing opportunity to work with Balance Innovation and Design and its Director of Emerging Experiences, Jonathan Morgan, on the creation of our new podcast, Design Everywhere.  Jonathan is a Human-Centered Designer with experience in a myriad of different fields of design.  Most recently, he became the host of Design Everywhere.  Jonathan explores the shifting landscape of product and service design in the face of emerging technology in this new podcast made by designers, for designers. Each week is an exploration into the past, present, and future of design through the stories of the people that are shaping it. Jonathan guides listeners through discussions with leading voices in the design industry where they canvass the world of design and its ultimate impact on our society.

In order to kick off the launch of Design Everywhere, we caught up with Jonathan in an interview to help you get to know your host even better - and on a more personal and real level.  We could not be more excited to be working with Jonathan on this podcast, and we cannot wait to share the rest of this first season with you!

FPP: How long have you been interested in design, and what aspect of design attracts you the most?

JM: I grew up in a family that deeply valued art, design, and music. I was the youngest, so I had the opportunity to learn a lot about art and design from my older brothers and parents. My dad was an architect and an entrepreneur in the days before CAD (computer-aided design). So from a very early age, I was surrounded by the artifacts of design. I particularly loved watching him sketch through ideas he had for the structures he was working on. He’d almost always include people in these sketches to communicate a sense of scale and add a layer of humanity to his ideas. I think it’s those types of experiences that attracted me to become a designer. I love the process of design almost as much as the outcome.

FPP: Can you tell us a little bit about your work with Balance Innovation & Design?

JM: I pretty much have my dream job right now. I help lead a cross-disciplinary group of researchers and designers. While each one of them is incredibly talented in their particular field, they also have these elastic minds that affords us flexibility to work on a dynamic range of projects - from medical devices and appliances, to virtual reality, to residential and industrial IoT applications, and so on.

My job is to help develop research and design strategies for projects that focus on creating value for our clients and their customers. I also still get the chance to design a lot. Everyday is something new.

FPP: In Design Everywhere, you talk about designing for utility. Designers think about the quick clean-up and turnaround rates when creating furniture for fast food chains. In a product you have helped to design, what functions of utility were most interesting/challenging to consider?

JM: I find accessibility and inclusion to be a fascinating challenge for design. And this doesn’t just apply to design for people with physical or cognitive impairments - it also applies to situational impairment. So, when we design a product for use in an operating room, we need to consider the complexity and variability of the environment. There are cables laying across the floor, and users are typically wearing gloves, masks, and goggles. The needs of the user is different from 10 feet away than it is from 2 feet away. I really geek out on understanding context and the process of developing adaptive solutions - where utility adapts to the context of use. And don’t get me wrong, I believe all design should be beautiful in it’s own way, but above all it must provide value to its user for it to truly be considered great design.

FPP: You also discuss the inefficiency of conventional brainstorming in Design Everywhere.  Can you tell us about a time you used alternative brainstorming ideas to create a product?  What were the results?

JM: I can’t get into the details on this one. But at a high-level, we brought in several surgeons and operating room nurses to an ideation session. We used a technique I developed with the help of some of my colleagues at Balance, called Opportunity Modeling. Rather than brainstorming a bunch of ideas for the refinement of a proposed product, we deconstructed the context of use of that product and detailed what each person in the room needed at any given point in the process. From there, we were able to refine a core set of user and technology requirements for the product and, more importantly, embed a sense of empathy across the team. The outcome of that session is now moving into final product development and will soon begin the FDA regulatory evaluation process.

FPP: Do you have any quick tips for creating more focus in your designs?

JM: Get out of your chairs and away from your desks and computers. 99% of what you will design in your life won’t be used while sitting at a desk, so don’t design sitting at one. Spend time observing people in the spaces your design will live, then get creative with how you might support those people through design.

FPP: Who are your biggest influences in design?

JM: My family, friends, and colleagues have to be my biggest influence. Those are the people with whom I've actively worked through problems and challenges throughout my life. Without them and the experiences we’ve shared, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I do now.

FPP: What is your favorite project you have ever worked on?

JM: I think my favorite project has to be one that focused on the future of retail. My final project in grad school was a deep dive on how emerging technology might impact how we shop in the future. The primary artifact of the project was a set of 10 principles and 39 guidelines, informed by more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, that help designers support the shoppers of the future. I was able to apply this academic work to the design of an innovative commercial platform that supported customers with features like self-checkout, in-store navigation, in-store virtual assistance, and ship-to-home for those items you don’t want to carry around the mall or let spoil in the trunk of your car. Its first implementation resulted in nearly $10mil in directly attributed sales for one retailer less than a month after launch.

FPP: Do you have any advice for those interested in pursuing a career in design?

JM: Find what you love and follow it intensely. Great design comes from a collaboration between experts in specific fields of design. Don’t try to be all of them at once. Be an expert at your piece of the puzzle and know enough about the expertise of your team so you can empathize with each of them, appreciate their value, and ultimately be more confident in yours.


Listen and Subscribe to Design Everywhere now, and follow us on social media!

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