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Design Thinking 101

Aug 7, 2018

I’m happy to announce that today’s guest is Nathan Ritter, a design researcher at IA Collaborative. We’ll talk about how his path to being a third-generation mechanical engineer turned into a design research career. We’ll also talk about transforming clients into design evangelists, before closing with a project that Nathan and his colleagues are working on to bring a design icon back to life.

As you may have guessed, Nathan came to design from an engineering perspective. Going through a project to assist a woman with rheumatoid arthritis helped Nathan discover that, for him, human-centered design is more interesting than doing mechanical analysis on a computer screen. He changed his major, and continued his studies through a masters program. He points out that he’s not departing from the work of his forefathers so much as emphasizing a different part of the same process.

In our conversation, you’ll hear about a time that Nathan was in grad school. He, along with a team of all men, were working on a project about feminine care products. He points out that having all men on the team was surprisingly not entirely a bad thing; it eliminated the often-present risk of designing for yourself. He’ll also talk about other challenges he’s faced, including the transition from academic project work to client services.

If you’re curious about the basic skills that go into Nathan’s work, you’ll love this episode, in which he digs into some of the surprising skills he uses every day. He finds himself turning into a human thesaurus, for example, and comes back to writing (and verbal communication more broadly) over and over. He also emphasizes the importance of empathy, and the associated abilities to listen closely, reinterpret, and respond to what participants tell him.

Nathan will also talk listeners through his multifaceted new client education process, the importance of having people understand who their customers are and what their customers are doing, how he moves from exploratory research into evaluative research, and more. Excitingly, you’ll also hear about his fascinating project to bring the incredible Humanscale tool back to life.


Learn More About Today’s Guest

Nathan Ritter

Reissue of Humanscale on Kickstarter

@nathanritter on Twitter


In This Episode

[01:40] — What brought Nathan to design, and how did his journey take place?

[04:15] — We hear about how Nathan’s family of engineers took his career change from engineering into design.

[07:25] — Nathan talks about a time when he was pulled into a leadership role during an opportunity for design research in grad school.

[09:48] — What other kinds of leadership challenges has Nathan faced?

[13:05] — We learn more about where Nathan usually starts with new client education and the multifaceted approach that he takes.

[17:22] — How does Nathan know when the transformation that he has been talking about has occurred in someone? And how does he keep people fired up and on board, even though projects can take a while?

[20:13] — Nathan takes a moment to explain the difference between two terms he has been using: “exploratory” and “evaluative.”

[23:06] — We hear about how the relationship with a client can evolve, as well as some of the constraints and why it’s so important to engage the client in the design process.

[24:56] — As a practitioner, what are some of the basic skills that Nathan uses on a day-to-day or regular basis?

[27:42] — Nathan describes what it feels like when the design team (on his side) is humming along and functioning well.

[30:16] — Dawan pivots into another topic: Humanscale. Nathan describes what this fascinating tool is, both in terms of its historic value and its efficacy as a tool.

[35:45] — The problem with Humanscale is that it’s incredibly hard to find a set, and copies have sold on eBay for over $1,000 each, Nathan explains. He then reveals his solution: recreating the set thanks to funding from Kickstarter.

[37:27] — Nathan talks about what sparked all of this for him.

[42:52] — Where can people go to learn more about Nathan and his work?


Links and Resources

Nathan Ritter

Reissue of Humanscale on Kickstarter

@nathanritter on Twitter


IA Collaborative

Henry Dreyfuss Associates (Dawan Stanford)