Understanding the Human-Centered Design Approach

Human-centered design means designing products and systems with a focus on the actual needs and psychology of the people who use them. Problems that disrupt the customer journey or the guest experience are corrosive. They may only affect one person at a time, but each individual complaint adds up in terms of negative reviews or the loss of someone who could be a recurring customer.

A Team of Stakeholders

Stakeholders

When starting the design process, it’s important to ask who is the end-user, and how do we address their needs? As Nick Babish writes for UX Planet:

Whatever you design, always think of people who’ll use your product. Those people are not abstract ‘users,’ those are real human beings who will interact with your product to accomplish their goals. Keep in mind that your product is just a tool that helps them reach their goal more efficiently.

Start by finding a team of most trusted-end users with no motives other than helping provide the best, most efficient product. As with any team of highly qualified experts, sometimes there will be egos in the room. That is something to recognize and accommodate. The advisory team has to be able to recognize each other’s expertise and respect each other, but strong egos can be channeled to fuel the design process. 

Design in Action

Design in Action

Here’s a story to illustrate the principles of human-centered design:

A project owner was involved in the design of a VIP area in a sports stadium. Space would be complicated. Plans called for 15 different bartender wells to serve guests. With the staffing and logistics required, the design would need to be tailored to provide the best experience.

The project owner tapped four leading bartenders from around the country to help with the effort. And then he coordinated with the architecture firm involved in the project. He asked the architects to present their designs to them.

“You’re going to give them printouts because not every bartender knows CAD,” he said. “You’re going to give them red pens, pads of paper, and a room to work in. Then, they’re going to take your design, tell you what to change, and you’re going to change it.”

So, the bartenders went to work on their suggestions. As subject matter experts, they provided insight into pain points that could be caused by the design. They also helped optimize the physical layout for the smoothest operation.

When it was time to open the facility, those same four bartenders hired or brought in their own teams to oversee the opening. It was a success, but refinements still needed to be made. Once a design goes live, scaling up to serve hundreds or thousands of users or guests a day, it’s easy to see what issues were overlooked. But the solid foundation provided by human-centered design will make the next iteration even less painful. Everything will be closer to the bullseye starting out.

Once the bugs were worked out, the bartenders moved on to their next project. But the stadium facility turned out to be a complete success because of the human-centered design process. The story could be told 50 different ways about 50 different projects, and the principles would apply from development to execution.

Summing it Up

Summing it Up

Human-centered design starts with learning directly from the stakeholders who the product or project will serve. Designers must come to understand them deeply in order to address their needs. The feedback is used to identify potential pain points as well as ways to delight the audience. Once these insights are put into practice and the design becomes reality, the project will be set up for success. It all comes down to keeping the people the project will serve firmly in the driver’s seat of design.

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