Molekule was created to provide clean air to as many people as possible, which is still a mission we strive to complete. In tackling this arduous task, we are always ensuring that our products are efficient from a development and manufacturing standpoint. However, it is also of paramount importance to us that every experience our customers have with our devices and company is efficient and easy. To these ends, one of the principles we put to work when designing products that clean the air is Human-Centered Design.
We asked some of our designers how they implement Human-Centered Design in their work at Molekule and what principles they apply.
What is Human-Centered Design?
One of the loudest champions of Human-Centered Design is IDEO, a design company with offices throughout the world. They offer extensive resources to promote the concepts behind Human-Centered Design, and publicize projects that are rooted in the problems they solve as opposed to their monetary efficiency.
Designing a product is a complex process that involves much more than its appearance. Those of us who think about how a product is going to present itself in the world should also consider how users will interact with the device, how it fits into their lives, how the company plans to support the product once it is sold, and many other factors.
Many traditional companies approach these design questions with profit and internal efficiency in mind. However this does not mean that a reliable, useful, or even functional product will result. By considering at every stage of the design process how it will be used by customers, a design team can make a product that only solves problems instead of creating them.
Human-Centered Design always starts with empathizing with the user to identify what problems the product is intended to solve in their lives. Designers think about the cultures their products are intended to serve and how those cultures think about the problem the product solves. This is done through extensive interpersonal research, usually through face-to-face meetings with the intended audience via focus groups or other personal interactions.
After the path to the solution is well-researched, the designers define the solution they intend to bring to market. The process then moves to repeated modeling and testing of different ideas to address the problem. These next steps are often cyclical, constantly returning to what was learned about the targeted users and how they will best utilize the final product.
Molekule started with Human-Centered Design
Molekule does not just design physical products, air purification requires an entire network of experiences to serve customer needs. Though the device itself is the most obvious component, the basis of the Molekule offering is clean indoor air. To reach this solution Molekule provides not just a device but also an app, a filter subscription program, and other customer-facing aspects that form an air purification ecosystem around the user.
Human-Centered Design needs to be evident at every stage in the design process of this ecosystem so there are many individual aspects of Molekule products that were implemented with the end-user in mind. Our Vice President of Product and Design, Peter Riering-Czekalla, has been with the company since its inception and oversees design choices about Molekule products.
Peter was recently interviewed in Builtin.com about Human-Centered Design. He is a veteran of IDEO and came to Molekule with the intent to enact similar principles. “Human-centered design means that you don’t just give people new tech, you give them tech they can use,” he says.
The article goes on to mention the time that Peter spent in the homes of allergies sufferers, learning their pain points around air filtration. One of his key findings was about the challenge of maintaining fresh filters in their devices. Molekule attempts to solve this issue with our filter subscription program. New filters are delivered on a regular schedule so users always have replacements on hand.
The user is the most important element
Another key player in the design of our air purification ecosystem is Ilgu Cha, our Principal Industrial Designer. In addition to considering the aesthetics of each device, Ilgu also thinks about the environmental impact, which is important to our customers. “Environmental sustainability is always a key consideration in terms of material and finishing,” he says. “We always ask our packaging suppliers for 100% recycled materials with minimal material, and we avoid full color laminated printing. We decided on a vegan leather handle and no-paint finishing on plastic parts for all of our devices.” Mini’s textured exterior removes the need for paint that can introduce VOCs into the home.
To Ilgu, Human-Centered Design means reminding himself of the user throughout the project, not just at the beginning or the end. He says that Human-Centered Design is just a way to describe ancient and intuitive techniques that are just good design. When a primitive man made an axe for his child, Ilgu said, he would consider the child in the design. “Every detail needs a reason,” is Ilgu’s design philosophy.
Another designer that appreciates Molekule’s approach is one of our customers, Eduardo. He is a visual designer so one of the reasons he likes his Molekule Air Mini is that he doesn’t have to compromise having an aesthetically pleasing space for cleaner air.
Integrity in design
Since Human-Centered Design requires designers to take inspiration from the people who use their products, our designers are constantly looking at the world to find examples of how information is well and not so well presented. Having difficulty getting the right information is frustrating, which can lead to a negative emotional experience. “To me, human-centered design is about considering the emotional value to the user and designing for that,” says Sagar Rami, our Head of User Experience. “By addressing their emotions, we can take a product feature that begins as functional and elevate it to something that’s both useful and delightful.”
In each element of our interface, Sagar seeks to make interaction intuitive and easy. “How many times have you tried to park somewhere, attempted to find some form of signage to let you know how long or even if you can park there, only to leave as confused as when you started? It’s clear in these instances that the humans in question were not a consideration. Utility for its own sake, is simply not enough. Clear and simple communication, in an easily understandable format can be delightful too. Even for something as dry as street signage.”
When iterating Human-Centered solutions, staying true to your goals is vital, which is why Sagar thinks honesty is among the most important design principles. “I’m actually borrowing from a revered figure in the design world, Dieter Rams, where the phrase ‘Good design is honest’ is on his list of design principles.” Sagar says. “I feel that honesty imparts itself in the intent, the function, and the joy that one receives from design, so I always try to approach design in that way.”
Expect a Molekule product that solves your problems
In addition to the considerations that Ilgu, Peter, and Sagar mention above, the Molekule ecosystem of products is designed to solve problems, not create them. From the use of materials that minimize VOC off-gassing to the cord that wraps inside the base of each device, every detail of Molekule products are designed to ensure they clean the air as seamlessly and efficiently as possible.