Design Thinking and Self-Awareness

Dale Carnegie Quotes “If you want people to be interested in you, you should be genuinely interested in other people”

A designer’s aim was not to design a better product or service but provide a deep, engaging experience to the user and promise a better life. To achieve this, it is important to observe, study, understand the user’s unmet rational needs, emotional needs, desires, behaviours, motivations etc…It is a challenge to understand the underlying emotions, feelings of a user which is essential to design a better product.(Research by Empathy and Ethnographic Research).

To understand other people’s feelings and emotion, a designer should know how to read and understand his own feelings, emotions, motivations, behaviour under various circumstances. Without this knowledge, it would be impossible for anyone to understand the feelings, emotions, behavioural variations of others. The psychologists call this as ‘Self-Awareness’.


We, designers, are taught to understand the effect of automatic reactions of a human mind under various situations and how we need to isolate it during research.

As we all know that we have two minds — A rational mind which is slow to react and an emotional mind which takes fast decisions using past memories, associations — most of our life decisions are controlled by the emotional mind. Emotional mind is the reason behind automatic reactions of our body when we come across any danger — If you had seen a tiger, even before your rational mind could think about the situation, your emotional mind would provide an automatic reaction -The fear emotion would grip your mind, send signals and prepare your leg muscles to run- This impulsive mind was the difference between survival and death. Humans have survived as a hunter-gatherer for 300,000s of years due to this automatic reaction.

The emotional mind is connected to our sensory organs. When you experience a sudden anger, before your rational mind has a chance to understand what is happening, your emotional mind would have made your hand to grab a weapon, knock the person in front of you. Many times, the impulsive mind overrides rational mind.

The more intense the feeling, the more the dominant the emotional mind becomes, the lesser the control by the rational mind.

The sudden anger you feel when somebody had made a dent in your car, the sudden sadness, disgust, guilt you feel in certain situations — your behaviour would have changed without your knowledge.

At times, we do not choose the behaviour. The Behaviour chooses us based on the circumstances.

If you had a fight with your spouse before leaving for office in the morning, you would be feeling irritated, may snap at people for no reason. You may not be aware of this irritation unless somebody calls attention to it.

Sigmund Fred states “Much of emotional life is unconscious; feelings that stir within us but do not always cross the threshold into awareness”

The first and foremost is to realise those automatic reactions of mind under various situations. Once you are aware of those automatic reactions, you could evaluate, take corrective steps to change the moods, thoughts, behaviours.


To empathise with other, you need to empathise about yourself — To be and feel like somebody else, first you need to be in your shoes and feel yourself — Who am I? What do I want? What do I not want? What are my motivations? What makes me happy, sad? What makes me believe in myself? What makes me be depressed and despair?- Understand your feelings under various circumstances(Go beyond your usual likes and dislikes), your limitations(understand how far you would stretch), weaknesses, your thoughts and behaviours in stressful situations and turbulent emotions, how you react to various stimuli, motivations, desires, needs and wants.

Body-Language — In design research, when we observe users, we focus on their body language, facial expressions — A person would say that he was happy with the job, but his body language would show a tinge of sadness. Similarly, under stressful, emotionally turbulent situations our body language, facial expressions change and would not be under our control — You need to slow down, observe and self-reflect at this time.

Do you feel like slapping somebody or use cuss words? — slow down, reflect, understand the feeling, thoughts you have at that particular instant. Under emotional stress, our minds move fast — our body language is of rapid movements — when the train moves slowly, we could enjoy the nature; when the train moves fast, we would fail to recognise the natural beauty.

Slow yourself down to speed yourself up — Dan Callagher

Do Not Judge When You Observe — In design research, when we observe users, the foremost thing is to “Suspend Judgement and Just Observe” — Otherwise, we would be biased(Cognitive Bias) and we would unknowingly observe, collect data to validate our bias and miss out many valuable insights. Similarly, to understand our own emotions, feelings — It is important to have non-judgemental, non-reactive mind — maintain a neutral mode and later, we could reflect on the reasons behind those moods, thoughts and feelings.

A designer believes that life is full of learnable moments, if you suspend judgement and keenly observe in detail.

So, the first step in mastering our life is ‘Self-Awareness’ — so that we could take corrective measures to motivate ourselves, persist in the face of frustrations, regulate our moods, respond appropriately to external stimuli, people, handle relationships, romance, organisational politics, be productive, be content & happy in life, be empowered, be self-confident, have inner peace and be inspirational to others.

References: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, TED talk by Valon Murtezaj, TED talk by Dan Callagher.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

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