Remembering Vidal Sassoon – the User-Centred Hairdresser

I just stumbled upon a tribute to Vidal Sassoon, a British hairdresser who had just passed away. He rose to fame in the 1960s due to his innovative hair styles which were easy to maintain, thus gaining a large following by women everywhere.

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What caught my attention was how the writer reflected upon the social impact and relevance Sassoon had made through design:

Instead of styles that took an hour to blow dry, women [and] men could have stylish functional, yet beautifully designed haircuts that didn’t require half your morning to style. He did this by putting the emphasis on the process and technique of cutting hair, clean sectioning, precise geometric shapes, fastidious attention to detail and an awareness of shape, texture, tone and form that was unheard of before then.

This also came at the time of the “sexual revolution” of the mid 60′s when women started to aspire to something more that cooking and cleaning, they wanted the same freedoms that men had enjoyed, careers, independence and their own lives, laborious and bloated hairstyles had no room here.

In some ways, it didn’t matter what “specific” technique or process Sassoon used to create the look. It was the idea behind the work that made the difference. Or to put it in an analogy closer to home, it doesn’t matter if one device has a touch screen or not – it’s what one chose to do with it to change people’s lives.

It also points out how society has a way of proclaiming their latent needs and desires of the time (in this case, women wanting greater autonomy), and how observing and understanding society as a whole has a direct relationship with design. We would do well to look beyond just the digital world.

Boon Chew

Boon is a Malaysian UX designer and former developer who currently works at SapientNitro London. He's an active member of the London UX community and organises the annual UXCampLondon unconference. You can reach out to him on twitter at @boonych.

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