Interview with "Human Things" at NYC

As businesses shift to mobile apps, the User Experience (UX) design field has grown dramatically. UX design requires a combination of both psychological and design elements. To create a successful User Experience, and optimize the whole experience of using digital products (digital devices, web applications, etc.), the challenge becomes how to combine research with effective Interaction Design (IxD) (engaging visuals, motion graphics, sound, and spatial experiences).

This time, I interviewed two designers, Heidi Brant, an Experience Designer who has an interest in psychology, and Dave Derby, a Service Designer with a background as a professional musician. These two hybrid designers studied together at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), one of NYU Tisch's master's degree programs. Recently, they got together to launch new design businesses called Human Things. They shared the story of their backgrounds and how they came up with the idea behind their new design business.


Dave Derby(Left) and Heidi Brant(Right), NYC 2019

About NYU Tisch Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP)

New York University (NYU)'s Tisch School of the Arts is famous for entertainment: movies, TV, music, and many prominent directors and actors are alumni. The NYU ITP program is known as a program where engineers learn engineering through the lens of an artistic approach. Nowadays, the demand for engineers extends beyond the programming field. Engineers are needed to create excellent motion graphics, sound, and spatial experiences in the digital world. This program is drawing attention from aspiring engineering and design companies in these fields. Dave and Heidi both studied at this program where they received master's degrees.

Art x Psychology, Heidi Brant

After majoring in child psychology in college, Heidi moved to NYC and worked as a sculptor's assistant that was very different from her focus at school. While she was working as an assistant, she discovered ITP and thought it would be an excellent chance to add technology to her skillset and expand her field of work. Soon after she completed her master's degree at ITP, Heidi started working for the toy company LEGO which had just opened a new digital experience office in NYC. She joined as a digital content producer. She was able to apply both her knowledge of child psychology and digital engineering to this role. Over time, she expanded her focus to include experience design (ED) with a focus on the quality of the user experience. She consulted on the experience design of many LEGO Club projects. She specializes in design research and is an adjunct instructor at NYU's ITP.

Heidi's background in psychology is helpful when she is conducting design research and designing experiences. She takes a human-centered design approach to all her work and believes that the answers to many design challenges lie within the stories told by the project's audience.

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ITP students learning at class ©️NYU ITP

Music x design Mr. Dave Derby

After graduating from university, Dave's rock band got a record deal with a Berlin-based independent label and eventually a major label. After touring the world for a few years, Dave got a master's degree at ITP, and he worked as an information architect (a specialist who thinks about how to layout the information on websites, etc.) and usability experts. Companies included Citibank, Sanofi, Wiley Publishing, and ADP. He transitioned into a role as a Design Researcher and Experience Strategist using Design Thinking to help companies like Deutsche Telekom, Prudential, and UBS rethink their approach to digital products and services. He is currently working as a Service Designer at Tandem Seven, where he helps leading companies reimagine employee experience and solutions to enable operations teams to support the needs of their customers better.
He explains that his background in music has informed his approach to all forms of design. "Music taught me to listen to others, to see the value in collaboration and experimentation. The best music and the best design is made with others," says Derby.

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Early product design flows

The biggest challenges are to understand the needs of the people who use them.

Heidi told me that the biggest challenges in designing a digital product are related to understanding the needs of the people who use them. Too often, we overlook the context of how they use our products and fail to consider the fact that our designs result in just one product or service that they use in the broader ecosystem of products and services. If we don't recognize that we run the risk of overloading our designs with features and qualities, it doesn't integrate well with their holistic digital needs. Too often, we as designers forget that our product/service isn't the only experience in people's lives.

Utilize design thinking to help people's lives

After graduating from NYU's ITP, they both followed their paths. However, what they had in common was a drive to transfer their knowledge into different fields and use it for the greater good. When they reunited as design thinkers to co-teach at NYU, they were inspired by conversations with their students to prototype a new kind of creative workshop application: Life Design. They held LEGO SERIOUS PLAY sessions, which focused on Life Design, giving people a tool to apply collaborative problem-solving skills to every facet of human life. 


Human Things Life Design Workshop 2019

Because of the success of these prototype workshops at NYU, they decided to create a Life Design practice with a course for the general public. The goal is to inspire people to see their lives as an exciting and engaging design challenge, apply the principles of design thinking design thinking (an approach with five steps: research/empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) to work, career and life in general. The audience for the Life Design curriculum is not just new grads. It includes people of all different ages who are at a transition point. Human Things is hoping to offer their workshops to more and more people who are facing a transition and want support approaching it as a design challenge. In the future, more and more design businesses like this will be created by hybrid designers.