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Design by the User, with Inspiration from New York Fashion Week

How does fashion design relate to digital design? On a basic level, all designers gather inspiration from a range of sources and many design principles are consistent across different disciplines.

But a recent show during New York Fashion Week (NYFW) focused on inclusion, Introspective Innovations, highlighted what might be the greatest lesson digital designers can take from fashion: to create an effective design solution, listen most closely to those experiencing the design “problem.”

Introspective Innovations threw open the doors to NYFW, inviting emerging artists to showcase their work free of charge. A group of BIPOC women who knew the pressure and difficulty of proving themselves “worthy” of NYFW created the show, after experiencing their own struggles to apply, raise money, network, and design an entire collection for their first NYFW appearances in February 2022. 

The show was astounding. Designers from around the world presented work inspired by issues in their community and the world. From a refugee support jacket to recycled aluminum dresses, the designers created products that related to their experiences. Introspective Innovations brought fashion design that not only represented emerging issues but produced solutions inspired by the ones experiencing them.

While digital design isn’t showcased in the same forums as fashion, I’m proud to say that we at Forum One take these lessons to heart, striving for participant- or audience-led design that bring fresh and relevant perspectives to every aspect of our work.

User research is at the forefront of our designs, not only to understand audience needs but also to inspire passion and care for the work we create. Involving users at each stage of creation—from discovery to low-fi design to product usability testing—brings emerging ideas to the table and amplifies the voices of those at the front lines of health, the environment, education, and all the global issues our work centers.

In the discovery phase, two research methods we use are “netnography” and user focus groups. Netnography, or contextual interviews, allow researchers to observe the user in their natural environment. The practice helps us to develop a better understanding of users’ paths without interfering. User focus groups are an effective means for moderating a discussion with a group of similar users and garnering insight into an audience’s attitudes, ideas, and desires.

Beyond the discovery phase, we push to include the user in our multifaceted design approach. One technique, user solution sketching, involves multiple users pursuing the same design effort simultaneously but independently creating their own design solutions. This results in multiple user-designed solutions that Forum One designers can use to inspire the design of future products. Another approach, design critiques, is a collaborative environment for designers, developers, strategists, and stakeholders to review ideas and iterate on solutions. Whenever possible, Forum One invests in bringing design work to cross-discipline critiques that ultimately enhance design through alternative perspectives and experiences on our teams. The inspiration from Introspective Innovations has stayed with me, for months later. I’m glad to be part of a team designing for impact through diverse inspiration and involvement of user research. If you’re interested to learn more about putting users at the forefront of your future designs, please reach out to learn more about working with us. (And if you want to chat about fashion design, I’m ready for that too!)

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