Understanding is everything

There are tonnes of problems caused by misunderstandings from being lost in the street, arriving to inefficient solutions, to having communication problems. Understanding seems to be the most important stage of a (design) process, but what does understanding mean? How we can be sure that something is completely understood by others?

In order to find a proper answer to this question, I looked it up in the dictionary:

  • Understanding > to Understand is defined as:
    1. to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; comprehend /
    2. to be thoroughly familiar with; apprehend clearly the character, nature
    , or subtleties of /
    3. to assign a meaning to; interpret.

Not happy with these definitions, I looked for more in Wikipedia and found the same question I am asking myself: how I can be sure I have made myself clear enough about something?

Wikipedia explains that to understand something is to have conceptualised it to a given measure. From a cognitive perspective, to understand something is related to behaviour, that means that somebody who reacts appropriately to x understands x. It can also be said that when someone understands something, that person is capable of explaining it to a third person.

Particularly for Design, understanding is essential for all the participants involved in the problem-solving process: the client, the designer and the audience. The client has to be sure to clearly explain the problem to the designer in a way that the designer has fully understood the problem. The designer has to be sure to completely understand the problem to develop the appropriate design solution, which must be effectively understood by the audience.

When explaining something (i.e. a concept, a problem, a task) it can be helpful to remember the following key points, based on (A) person giving the explanation, and (B) person trying to understand that explanation, and the ‘problem’ is what (A) is explaining:

– Organisation: (A) should think in advance the structure that will use to explain to (B) the problem. (A) should also consider how the different parts of the problem will be described to (B), and be consistent throughout the whole explanation.

– Aim: Give a brief description of the objective behind the explanation of the problem, i.e. if (A) is commissioning a task, (A) should explain first what is being expected from (B) (i.e. a service, a behavioural change from the audience, etc.).

– Overview: Give a short summary of the whole problem. This would give (B) a general description of the problem.

Context: Give also a broader context of the problem, such as the external factors that have influence in the problem. This would help (B) to visualise or have an idea of the dimension of the problem.

– Lexicon: (A) and (B) should speak the same lexicon. Even if (A) and (B) are speaking the same mother tongue, they may not understand each other, unless they start speaking in the same lexicon (especially with highly technical problems).

– Examples: Give some examples during the explanation of the problem to ensure that (B) is on the right track.

– Details: Give detailed information during the explanation.

– Comparison: Make comparisons with parallel situations and other projects to explain the problem from different perspectives.

– Supportive elements: Graphics, gestures and any other kind of supportive information can increase the level of understanding of the problem.

Most important of all, (A) has to have no doubts about the problem to be capable of explaining it correctly to (B).

These points can also be followed when designing a presentation, report or just organising ideas, as they will help structuring information.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Unambiguous communication: the key to understanding | Mapping Complex Information. Theory and Practice

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