What is human-centered design?
While you might think that all software is designed to manipulate your needs, human-centered design seeks to truly understand a user’s frustration. Design thinking is a series of processes aimed at understanding the specific needs of the consumer. Human-centered design takes an empathetic approach to development through focused business decisions. Designers seek to understand the consumer perspective and find the best possible solution. There are 5 steps to human-centered design: Empathize, learn, create, prototype, test, and iterate. In this article, Innovation and Design strategist Diana Rhoten discusses the impact of human-centered design.
How Diana Rhoten approaches the design process
Diana Rhoten smiles as she looks up at the ceiling of her New York home office. She pauses in mid-thought and recalls the details of a massively successful project her team worked on. However, it didn’t start out that way.
Her client came to her and knew exactly what they wanted to design and implement, and urged Diana to move on it as soon as possible.
As a design and innovation strategist specializing in human-centered design, Rhoten knew planning and strategy are critical. So she told her client it was important to understand user expectations and pay attention to the design, development, and service details.
Trusting the Process
“There was a lot of resistance to our process,” Rhoten recalls, as she rhymes out a list of concerns from her client: “This will be a waste of time. We already know what we want. Why are we spending time and resources on this exercise?”
But the client stuck it out, and Rhoten’s team observed and documented every action.
“We gained an understanding of how their employees truly worked, and their behaviors,” she says, “We explained how changing different elements of their environment would help them achieve their ultimate goal: To design a fantastic, user-centric product”
“It was extraordinary how much value they ultimately found in the process and it transformed what the end solution was.”
Rhoten says her client ultimately reached their goals and saw a shift in employee behavior. Without the human-centric process, the type of intervention nor the level of impact would have happened.
How digital product development can benefit from a human-centered design approach
Human-centered design is a methodology that draws on user insights about a product, service, or space to creatively address an organization’s challenges and opportunities.
It’s different from a more traditional engineering-centric approach, which focuses on technological capabilities, or what can be built, before considering the user.
Human-centered design (often associated with Design Thinking), is all about starting with the users.
“It fundamentally starts with the people for whom you’re designing and ends with a solution that is grounded in their needs, wants, hopes and aspirations,” Rhoten says. “It all starts with asking: What do the users need, and then, how do we design it for them, based on the technical tools that we have and the financial business needs we have?” says Rhoten.
Three phases of human-centered design
In the end, human-centered design can transform an organization, allowing the structure of a project to fall from the consumer.
Rhoten identifies three key phases in human-centered design that can lead to an organizational transformation and better design.
- The inspiration phase
The first phase is critical. During the initial research process, user input is gathered and pre-existing assumptions are challenged. The design team unpacks every value, belief, and habit that influences the user.
“You’re really trying to learn directly from the people for whom you are designing,” Rhoten says, “immersing yourself in their lives and having the deepest possible empathy and understanding for the situation in which your users live, work, and operate.”
- The ideation phase
During the ideation phase, the organization takes user feedback, conducts consumer research to identify a problem, and brainstorms solutions that emphasize the user’s needs.
- The implementation phase
Finally, in the implementation phase, the solution is applied within the organization or brought to market, with user feedback incorporated throughout the entire process.
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Key considerations of a human-centered design approach
“You can run into problems where you have a great idea that responds to a set of human needs and interests, but isn’t implementable or scalable by the client or organization — whether it’s a for-profit or not-for-profit,” cautions Rhoten.
And on the people front, when designing a product or solution for a specific group of users, it’s important to be aware of how your perspective and experience may differ from the people you are designing for.
“To be a successful human-centered designer, you need self-awareness about your own conscious and unconscious bias and what you put into a conversation and to an observation,”
The consequence of not doing so is that you will see what you want to see, or hear what you want to hear rather than listening to what is communicated by the user.
In a world that is still experiencing shifts of uncertainty, Rhoten believes human-centered design is the most straightforward path to success. User needs are critical to design because they’re “more constant and more consistent than all of the patterns of shift around us.”
“Start from the people you employ and serve in the market, and try to build towards their needs,” Rhoten concludes.
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