Human-centered design matters!
Nowadays, design thinking has become one of the most popular ways to design a product or solve a problem. Design thinking is a problem-solving process, and human-centered design is an approach to problem-solving that has a focus on the users of the product that it is designed for (Bethany, 2020). Different from analytical thinking, design thinking is a “perceptual” mindset, which focuses on understanding, observing, and inspiration.
According to the design thinking training of Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (D-School), a design thinking institute based at Stanford University, some significant concepts in the design thinking process were proposed. For instance, human-centeredness, the idea of daring to fail, cross-domain teamwork, learning by doing, and rapid prototyping.
Among the elements mentioned above, human-centeredness is a key to making a successful product. Additionally, there is a significant attribute in human-centered design, which is empathy. Designers need to understand and think things from users’ points of view and focus on their needs while designing products (Waloszek, 2012).
In the following essay, I will briefly introduce what human-centered design is, the value of it, and the role that a persona plays in the design thinking process, and I will explore “why is human-centered design important?” through the process and results of my design thinking project —solution to #movethedate: saver App.
What is Human-centered design?
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of
technology, and the requirements for business success.”
— Tim Brown, IDEO Chair
Before exploring why human-centered design is important, we should understand what it is and what attributes it has. User-centered design, commonly referred to as human-centered design and customer-centered design, represents a general design concept that brings users or consumers into the design process (Miaskiewicz & Kozar, 2011). Human-centered design is not just a “design”, it is an interdisciplinary process and an iterative process. Additionally, this concept does not only affect how things are designed, but also the approaches to create a new product, service, or even custom applications (Mutually human, 2019).
Additionally, senior product designer Philips (2015) indicated in a blog post that human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving, sometimes people call it “participatory design” as well, and it mainly focuses on people’s everyday thinking, emotions, and behavior. According to Wikipedia, the term means an approach that attempts to involve all stakeholders actively in the design process to ensure the result meets their needs and it is usable.
The concept of human-centered design is to first establish who the user is and what their problem is and then find a solution that is tailored to them. The core of human-centered design is deep “empathy”. By this approach, designers in turn get rich inspiration and an abundance of ideas, which are used in building and sharing a prototype with the ideal customer, and putting the final product or service to market at the end (Bethany, 2020).
“When you understand the people you’re trying to reach — and then design from their perspective — not only will you arrive at unexpected answers, but you’ll come up with ideas that they’ll embrace.”
— IDEO, Field Guide to Human-centered Design
According to the article from User Testing (2018), IDEO indicated that human-centered design process can manifest into six steps, which are as follow:
In the first place, designers need to observe the end-users, learn, and be open- mind to creative possibilities. The goal is to understand the people they are designing for.
At this stage, designers will brainstorm ideas with their teammates based on what they got from the last stage and make personas. During the process, they need to stay focused on the needs and desires of the people. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as they can.
- Rapid Prototyping
At this stage, designers need to rapidly build a simple prototype of their ideas and test it. The goal is to make sure the solution is on target so they do not need to build a fancy high-fidelity prototype.
- User Feedback
At this stage, designers will show the simple prototype to end-users and let them test it. The goal is to get feedback from those people and evolve the design.
At this stage, designers will use the information that they got from their end-users to change the design. They need to keep iterating, testing, and integrating user feedback until they have already fine-tuned the solution. The goal is to iterate the design or product and get the final solution.
After validating the usefulness of the solution with the end-users, it is time for designers to test the idea out in the real world.
Designers are designing for or with the users or customers so we need to take into consideration their needs, and design, test, and iterate with them as the center. Besides this, every time when designers need to optimize a product or solution, they should base on how users can, want, or need to use it, instead of asking users to adapt to our design. In addition, designers should try to develop products, designs, and services that are useful or valuable for the intended users, and get back to the users at different steps of the process.
Overall, while using human-centered design in product design, we need to remember a principle, which is always giving top priority to users or customers.
“By 2020, user experience will replace price and product as the key brand differentiator.”
— Jonathan Beckman, Founder of Apptourage
The value of human-centered design
Why do many companies apply this approach to design their products? It is important to put customers and users first while designing a product or a solution. Therefore, the designed product will be truly practical, and people will really use it.
For designers, a company Mutually Human (2019) pointed out some advantages to using human-centered design. Firstly, by this method, designers are able to understand the person using the custom application. Secondly, designers can discern the real problem. Thirdly, designers could build with more confidence. Lastly, designers could actually improve the users’ lives while improving their bottom line.
Furthermore, Thomsen (2013), executive vice president of product and design for Wanderful Media claimed that if done well, a human-centered approach will promote product creation, which will resonate more deeply with the audience, and promote participant and growth ultimately. My team also tried to make our “potential users” resonate when we thought of the features of the App. For instance, the first thing I thought while I was designing the solutions is to connect different restaurants and supermarkets that sell plant-based food to our App because most people get tired of eating the same food every day. To be more specific, my idea was to let the users collect points every time they buy plant-based food, and they could use those points in our other partnered shops. This is also convenient for the users because they could use those points in many shops.
Besides this, there is another key to designing the product that makes people delight and really gets benefits, the key is to ask the right questions. The following content is related to persona which will be explained in detail next paragraph.
When we were making the personas to come up with our solutions, we set three kinds of target audiences and consider their concerns, motivations, and typical characteristics.
Take a look at the image on the side. For this persona, we ask “ how our App help people with budget-conscious like her eat healthier and save money at the same time?” instead of asking “ how to attract carnivores to use our App?” This is how human-centered design works, we need to think about “the user”, asking the right and specific answer. Instead, we stand on the development side and try to persuade people to use our products. Users should feel like “Ah, this product is designed for me.”
Another important component of human-centered design is to have a learner mindset. Voltage Control (2020) in a recent blog post mentioned that when we face business or design challenges with a learner mindset, we will be open to discovering new things, challenging prejudices, and thinking in different ways. This is the opposite of a judgmental mindset that immediately tries to categorize or place blame.
“Central to the human-centered design approach is the adoption of a learner mindset.”
— Miklos Philip
Although users are very important for innovation, some people criticized that paying too much attention to the users may lead to products or services that are outdated or no longer needed. This is because the insights and solutions that designers use are from the users or the environment they live in “today”, and if the solution will be available only a few years later, the users may have developed new preferences and need by then (Garbuio & Dressel, 2020).
However, using human-centered or user-centered design can ensure that the product will really be used after implementation. If customers are worried that the final solution is time-sensitive and cannot be implemented in time, designers can find another solution. There is no need to be afraid of running out of ideas, designers can always think of new solutions. Even if it is the same problem, through different teams, the final solution will be very different, especially through the design thinking process. To be more specific, different designers notice different points, different end-users give different feedback, and these also lead to different solutions.
Consider my design thinking project, for example. Although our group members were on the same page, it can still be seen from the pictures on the side that each of us cuts in at a different angle and started thinking in a different direction. Hannah started with a big picture and tried to define the App by what/who/how questions; on the other hand, Moritz thought of these by another supermarket’s App, he put the screenshot and use a visual way to describe his ideas. Even though they both tried to design the features of the App, but they used different ways and different angles.
The above argument which points that products designed through human-centered design will be outdated is not a big problem. Still, we need to always put people first while designing a product.
In conclusion, the values of human-centered design mentioned above prove that this is the approach to design the products that reach users’ needs and help companies launch innovations. Being empathetic and understanding what users think can produce the design that makes users delight, resonate, and feel that “you feel me”. In this way, designers can make a product that will really be used once it is implemented. Human-centered design also helps designers ask the right questions and find the right direction from the beginning. Besides this, everyone in a design thinking process is flexible and open-minded, and designers can always come up with different ideas so there is no need to worry if the solutions will be outdated. Thus, human-centered design is an indispensable approach in design thinking and product design.
Personas’ role in the design process
Persona is a fictional representation of a user, and usually shows the common needs of users. Creating personas is to help designers create empathy and a team develop a shared understanding of users, and this happens in the early stages of the process.
What is the role of persona in the design process? Miaskiewicz and Kozar (2011) mentioned that a persona provides product designers a vivid representation of the design target by using a narrative, picture, and name. They also insisted that the function of a persona is to limit the design choices to designers and to allow for calculated design decisions. In short, a persona is to help narrow the target audiences, instead of designing for everyone.
Besides this, a persona is a tool to improve communication about the target users with a team and other stakeholders as well (Miaskiewicz & Kozar, 2011).
Creating personas is very helpful in the design process, but how does it connect to human-centered design or design thinking? The functions of a persona are to focus on target users’ needs and find similar interests among different groups of people. These are the main concepts of human-centered design.
During the design thinking project, we use user-centered design to come up with our solutions. We tried to think “what kind of people will benefit from our product?” Afterward, we made three personas. We stepped into the shoes of different users, assuming that we are a user, and think about how this product solves our problems, what kind of features will attract us, and what the benefits of using this product for us are.
Reflection from the design thinking project
In academic theory, design thinking is generally defined as an analytic and creative process that gives people opportunities to experiment, create and prototype models, collect feedback, and redesign (Razzouk & Shute, 2012). In the social aspect, design thinking draws inspiration from real people, works under the constraints of the market and technology, and treats every product touch-point as an opportunity to surprise, delight, and benefit users (Thomsen, 2013).
When we were designing the functions of the App, I also feel a connection with society and potential users. For example, when we were brainstorming and iterating, I considered the possibility of cooperation with restaurants and supermarkets, and how users can buy plant-based food more often and save money through our discounts and vouchers.
In addition, when my team thought of the solution to decrease meat consumption, we conceive our product, which is an App, based on a key question — who will benefit from it? We did not want only people who are already vegans or vegetarians to use our App, we want to attract people who eat meat. Since that, we can actually reach our goal, decline meat consumption. But how we should attract people? There is no doubt that we must make users happy, and ultimately our inducement is discount. This is because most people like saving money.
Finally, design thinking can not only help designers create products or solutions that connect to society, but also contribute some concepts in the process of experiment, building models, and collecting data in the academic area.
- Bethany. (2020, Jan 2). Design Thinking Vs Human-Centred Design: What’s the difference? Snap Out. https://medium.com/snapout/design-thinking-vs-human-centred-design-whats-the-difference-9ef855f55223
- Garbuio, M. & Dressel, M. (2020). 6 Building Blocks for Successful Innovation. Routledge.
- IDEO. (2014, Sep 18). What is Human-centered Design? ttps://www.designkit.org/
- Miaskiewicz, T. & Kozar, K. (2011). Personas and user-centered design: How can personas benefit product design processes? Design Studies, 32(5), 417–430.
- Mutually human. (2019, Jul 19). 4 Benefits of Human-Centered Design for a Custom Application. https://www.mutuallyhuman.com/blog/4-benefits-of-human-centered-design-for-a-custom-application/
- Philips, M. (2018, Nov 15). The Importance of Human-centered Design in Product Design. https://www.toptal.com/designers/ux/human-centered-design
- Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It Important? Review of Educational Research, 82(3), 330–348.
- Smaply. (2017, Apr 19). About personas and how to create them.
- Thomsen, D. (2013, Dec 20). Why Human-Centered Design Matters.
- User Testing. (2018, Dec 4). IDEO’s human centered design process: How to make things people love. https://www.usertesting.com/blog/how-ideo-uses-customer-insights-to-design-innovative-products-users-love
- Voltage Control. (2020, Feb 10). Why Human-Centered Design is As Important as Ever. https://voltagecontrol.com/blog/why-human-centered-design-is-as-important-as-ever/
- Waloszek, G. (2012, Sep 12). Introduction to Design Thinking. SAP User Experience Community. https://blogs.sap.com/2012/09/12/introduction-to-design-thinking/
Without them, I could not finish this article. :-)