A Human Touch: What Is Human Centred Design?

Craig Greenup 08/04/19, 09:28

Even if you have never heard the phrase ‘human-centred design’ before there is every chance you are familiar with the principles it involves. Those with a design and development background in particular will have more than likely come across concepts like user experience design – frequently shortened to UX – and at a first glance the two terms might seem interchangeable. While both intend to create meaningful solutions to everyday  human problems, there are a few key differences which set the principles apart.

The first thing to consider is that UX tends to happen at the interface between technology and humans and refers to the quality of a specific feature or function and how well it addresses pain points for consumers. Examples can be digital if they take the form of apps for example, but they can also be as simple as the way the on and off switch on a radio is designed and positioned. Human-centred design is a broader principle and it refers to a design framework or management system which puts people first. So, while you may use UX as a means to improve and refine your app, human-centred design is the process that would lead to the decision to make the app in the first place. Therefore, UX is just one principle which is used under the umbrella of human-centred design.

As you can see, the application of this approach has much wider implications for business, and can be used at all stages to cover a range of thought processes. For example, if a company is asking business centred questions such as ‘how can we increase average order value by 20%?’ then they may find that their approach isn’t giving them the results they need. Switching this to a more human-centred approach might lead you to ask different questions which help you to reach a similar outcome by different means.

You could reframe the question to have a more human-centric focus by asking instead ‘how do customers prefer to interact with our brand?’. From there you can look into directing your efforts and investing more resource into providing a relevant and rewarding experience. For example you might look into improving customer journeys and interfaces, improving tailored advertising for your target demographics, and therefore making the experience more personal to your users.

One of the keys to successful human-centred design is to treat it as an ongoing process. You should aim to continually seek feedback from users and customers in order to ensure that human experiences are always used to inform developments and changes. Of course you don’t need to be planning huge changes within your company in order to have a more human-centred approach to design – it can be incorporated into your everyday operations in a non-intrusive way which still adds value.

1. Get to know your people

Getting to know your target demographics in detail will help you to foster a human-centred approach. Try not to think of them as users in vague terms but consider them as real human people who are using your product in order to reach a personal goal of theirs. This will help you to consider the customer journey from start to finish. Start by asking who will be using the product and then think about the context of that use – more specifically the time and place, and of course, the device they are likely to use.

2. Assess the problem.

Not all problems will require a standalone solution. In previous blogs we have touched on explanations used by Don Norman, the man credited with coining the phrase ‘user experience design’, and he makes the distinction between two kinds of problems: fundamental problems and the symptoms of these fundamental problems. Once you have sorted your issues into these two groups you will see that addressing the fundamental problems often solves the symptomatic ones. The identification and sorting of these problems is an essential step when taking a human-centred approach to your design and development, so it’s well worth investing time and energy in getting this part right.

3. Think holistically.

When you take a holistic, top level view of your business then you can step back and look at the bigger picture. Addressing smaller complaints will not necessarily give your users or customers a better experience; for example, there is little point in investing all your resources into a mobile app if your customers prefer to interact with your brand through social media sites.

4. Test your ideas.

If you consider global brands like Facebook and McDonald’s you’ll see that they always test changes rigorously before implementing them on a wider basis. Restaurant chains will play around with the shape and colour of packaging to see which is most appealing to consumers or will try a limited edition sandwich on a relatively small demographic to see how it fares; social media sites will subtly change the colour or form of the ‘like’ button to discover which one their users are more likely to interact with. Thorough testing is vital before any changes are implemented widely. Of course, you do not need to set aside the same amount of time and money that these behemoth brands do, you can start small and scale your research as and when you need to.

5. Learn from your users’ feedback.

There are plenty of quick and easy ways to get customer feedback and insights; these include Twitter polls, customer satisfaction surveys, and requesting feedback via email. The important thing is to actually listen to the feedback provided by your customers and to act on it accordingly. Remember that negative feedback can be one of your most useful tools when developing your business as long as you use it wisely. Quantitative data may be preferred when tackling big issues such as budgeting, but don’t disregard the value that qualitative data can add. It can help your customers to tell their stories and address their hopes, fears and expectations and can in turn help you to help them meet their goals.