Well, I’m not so sure this history really repeats, but there is something to this that a designer can and should leverage.
Whatever you’re designing for, you are immersed in the subject matter, work with various experts to build understanding so you can provide designs that align well with your area. We know that a solid design practice is to look at the current state of affairs, and observe where things work well for users and where they don’t. You’ll likely talk with users and stakeholders about this, and from them you’ll learn a few things.
From users you will see their perspective, but there is something you need to make sure to listen to, that is their patterns of work, especially beyond just using the thing you’re designing. It will tell you what things they do in instinctual ways (some they don’t even realize themselves because it’s so engrained) and also what things that may feel foreign or weird to them.
Understanding the user’s patterns, tells you a lot about their mindset in terms of how they work, what they need, and how they perceive their world.
For stakeholders, it’s similar, but of course their point of view is not the same as the user. Here listening to their perception will clue you into the patterns they’re applying to their role as stakeholder in this context. This will provide you with another set of patterns to consider.
After accumulating this, here is where you can do yourself a huge favor, and step away, and step into other areas, areas that could be extremely disparate and unconnected to the one you’re designing for. It’s good to have enough breadth of knowledge (see an older post, Trivial importance) to have an inkling of one or more of these other areas that could shed a new light on that set of patterns you’ve just uncovered.
And note that personal experiences are fair to exploit too — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to my experiences in raising 3 boys, personal experiences with my intense love of food and cooking, or my love of investigating the adventures of people who hack the “standard way” of doing things to…