Why software design needs problem solvers without formal tech backgrounds

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Over the past several decades, the market for tech users has shifted from engineers to the masses. Today’s software is built to empower grandparents, students, nurses, accountants, and politicians—anyone capable. In step with this increasing accessibility, companies now invest in developing intuitive user interfaces to accommodate for an array of users. Ease of use is one of the biggest differentiators among today’s tech leaders. Take the biggest mobile companies—their capabilities aren’t all that different. It’s the user experience that makes a company stand out.

Particularly if you want your product to reach a large market, designers need to build something for a wide range of users. This is one reason why companies now call upon problem solvers with varying backgrounds—not necessarily tech backgrounds—to design their software. Diversity within a design team can foster empathy with the end-user and help identify fresh opportunities to improve a product.

This approach is central to IDEO founder David Kelley’s “design thinking,” where humans’ natural behavior drives product design. Instead of a linear approach to ideation, Kelley believes groundbreaking ideas occur when people with divergent training collaborate. He brings together journalists, doctors, opera singers, and anthropologists to discuss better ways of designing products.

Apple has also validated this concept. When Steve Jobs wanted to create a new phone, he requested a team that had never developed one. This unorthodox approach led Apple to discover innovations such as visual voicemail. The fresh perspectives weren’t limited by technical requirements that could restrict consideration of potential solutions.

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The software industry needs non-techies who can incorporate their varying backgrounds in education, work and life experience, into the problem solving process. Working alongside developers, they can create something that’s sustainable on the back end, and intuitive and beautiful on the front end.

The future of software design may follow a similar story to Henry Ford and the automobile. Ford created a product his contemporaries couldn’t even fathom, that now has become essential in our everyday lives. Still, its design continues to change with the diversifying customer base. User experience and software design will also continue to evolve, thanks to the diverse teams who build for both modern and future users.