Designing for the Human Element


We often talk about “the human element”.

Sometimes, we view it positively. Friendliness. Compassion. Enthusiasm. Adaptability. Creativity.

But often, the human element is considered a negative influence. Errors. Whims. Risks. Tiredness. Confusion. Biased. Bored. Unpredictable.

And so, we find ourselves talking about building systems that “remove the human element” to increase reliability, improve safety, enhance speed, and reduce errors.


These are good goals. There are, indeed, many tasks to which computers or machines are far better suited than humans.

But … if we only ever talk about “removing the human element”, one day we may succeed at achieving that goal. We might wake up to find ourselves in a sterile world of cold machines. Every quantity measured, every metric optimised, every relationship shared, every experience liked, every review accurate & thorough, every interaction managed.

I do not anticipate many smiles in such a world. Not much laughter. Little joy.


Instead, why not increase the human element. Let us pour more humanity into our tools, our systems, our machines. Let us make things that lead to increased humanity.

Undoubtedly, this will require us to shift some tasks to computers. Good! We humans are overburdened in the information age, and machines are designed to do things that we do poorly. Cognitive resources are scarce and precious. Design decisions that alleviate these burdens are valuable. They free up a certain amount of “human element” …

So, perhaps, we should consider this in our designs. When “removing the human element”, look for ways to re-inject it in a more meaningful area. Help us to spend our newly available reserve of human element on things that really matter.

I wonder what that would look like?