One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (the hard way) with design, is that you can’t design anything properly until you see the problem. I know, it sounds super obvious but it gets missed all the time.
Steve Jobs and his team, when they were at the early stages of the iPhone, they asked themselves: How a phone should look like? So when they went to first principles, it became obvious that they had to get rid of the physical keyboard and have a touch screen. The problem was seeing the problem.
Or consider Howard Hughes when he reinvented modern airplanes. Most airplanes at the time had two wings in each side (one on top of each other). Then he asked himself: Why do they have four wings in total while there could just have two? That was the right question.
Solving problems is not the hard part. The hard part is figuring out the right question to ask and define the problem—the real problem.
The thing is that coming up with a solution is not actually hard. What’s hard is seeing the problem. Once you realize what the problem is, then coming up with the iPhone or removing two wings in an airplane isn’t actually that hard.
The challenge is to leave all kinds of biases behind and go first principles. It’s about detaching yourself from it’s supposed to be this way, and go to how should it be? Once you do that, then you can start seeing the problem as it is.
Steve Jobs did that with the iPhone. But also Isaac Asimov. When Asimov came up with the Three Laws of Robotics, even though we’re talking about Sci-Fi, he had to go to first principles and ask himself: What are the main dangers that we could ever face with robots? How could we prevent this from happening?
In the same way, with privacy we have to go through the same process. Understand exactly what’s the problem we’re facing and come up with solutions. The solution doesn’t have to be a product or service, it can be a set of rules to set the structure of the building. It can be a manual that serves as reference.
With privacy we’re not actually seeing the real problem. So first, let’s identify it, and maybe, just maybe, we can come up with a solution.
So, what’s the problem at stake here? What are we missing? What privacy should be?
How to ignite change
Before we get into nitty-gritty details, let me show how movements get started.
In the end, the problem we’re trying to solve here is disruptive. This is a revolution. Maybe we don’t see it that way, but it is. The same has happened for centuries, when there’s a revolution going on nobody notices it until it explodes. And it’s only afterwards when it’s easy to spot the moment when it ignited.
Well, the private revolution has started.
And what revolutions do is to destroy the perfect and enable the impossible.
Perfect as the system corporations and governments gave us to play in. And impossible as what people didn’t think was theirs in the first place (privacy and data).
We’re living on a thoughtful, well designed system that has sucked us in. So before we arrive to the conclusion of what the actual problem is, we need to decode that system in order to understand how to change it.
In the end systems are based on the status quo. That’s why there’s widespread apathy towards privacy and data ownership. After all, following the system is hardwired into us, even if that means going against our own interests, we still defend the status quo.
Thus, when the status quo goes away, the system is in danger. But at the same time, the status quo is the status quo because is good at resisting change.
So the only way to make the change we seek, is to understand what are the drives of that system and analyze the pieces that make it work. Then, if we find the right piece, in other words, if we define the problem right, then we can change that piece and suddenly the system collapses.