A Beginner's Guide to Human Centered Design

By SmartUp.io Posted 9mth(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes


Whether it's a product that will improve your customer experience or a concept that will enhance quality, Human Centered Design (HCD) is a simple approach that offers innovative solutions.

Introducing Human Centered Design

For many years, the HCD practitioners at the global design and innovation firm IDEO have openly shared how they do what they do. We've taken a blend of what works at IDEO and what we know works in startups and large businesses to create a module that should sit comfortably with anyone in any organization.

Let's begin by answering the following questions:

  1. What is Human Centered Design?

  2. Why should I use Human Centered Design?

  3. Who is Human Centered Design For?

What is Human Centered Design?

Human Centered Design is first of all founded on the belief that everyone is creative and can innovate. Innovation doesn't have to be isolated to a few people in a lab or accelerator. Successful innovators have learned that innovation is a process and that like anything else, it can be learned and practiced.

The HCD process is based on the notion that by first gaining a deep understanding of the needs, hopes and aspirations of potential users, we can create better and more innovative solutions for them.

The process can be broken down into 3 phases which tend to overlap a bit more than follow each other sequentially: inspiration, reflection and experimentation.

The HCD process seeks to gain a deep understanding of the needs, hopes and aspirations of potential users in order to create better and more innovative solutions for them.

Creativity vs Innovation - What is the difference?

Creativity is the process of generating something new.

Innovation is the practical application of creativity into something that has an impact.

So, everyone can be creative but not everyone can be innovative, because innovation involves taking action.

Desirability, Feasibility and Viability

So, what makes for good innovation and design? A combination of human desirability, technical feasibility and business viability.

As Human Centered Designers, we start with desirability. We strive to better understand our customers - across selection, targeting and segmentation - to uncover values and desires which may even be unknown to customers themselves.

We dive into the user’s life, taking time and making the effort to walk in their shoes and immerse ourselves in their experience. We adopt a “child's mindset,” we assume nothing and are curious about everything. Our goal is to build empathy and understanding so we can design relevant, meaningful solutions.

But we also need to explore technical feasibility and business viability early if we want our innovative ideas to launch. Inspiration can come from any and all of the 3 areas - innovation can be applied in more than 1 area to achieve our goals.

HCD encourages us to get inspired by real needs, reflect on user insights, and experiment toward solutions allows us to take thoughtful, incremental steps that can lead to huge impact.

A good innovation and design is a combination of human desirability, technical feasibility and business viability.

Why Human Centered Design?

HCD by definition puts people at the center of the innovation process. In doing this, our solutions and ideas are much more likely to have a real impact on the lives of the people serve.

HCD also leads to better results because it encourages us to frame and reframe the problem in ways that help us focus on creating meaningful solutions that address real needs. We also use experimentation to test out ideas and iterate them until they really work and we reduce risk by learning from the failures of those experiments.

In our experience most organizations tend to look for innovations that they feel will be proven successes before they've even launched. When bringing a truly new solution to the world, this is clearly impossible. HCD helps us navigate this journey by surfacing the qualitative and quantitative evidence we need to build confidence in our ideas.

Is Human Centered Design for You?

We've seen HCD used in a variety of situations - for large complex problems (such as building bank products that promote financial literacy) and for smaller solutions (such as simple UI design iterations that have a big impact on a customer experience).

We've also learned that practitioners who trust the process and follow this framework do start to see problems big or small in a new light.

David Kelley, the founder of IDEO (and also a professor at the d.school), describes this as 'Flipping' in his book, Creative Confidence. He also shared that his students "started to see themselves as creative individuals for the first time" and "could apply creativity to any challenge".

Likewise, we hope to see you flip and ask you to share your stories with us as you start your own human centered design journey.

What Should I Do Now?

Well apart from diving more into the material that follows, why not start to think about that beginners mindset and how you think you can begin to nurture it.

If you have young children, this will be pretty easy, it's about all those moments when they ask, "What is this?" "How does that work?" "What does this do?" and importantly, "Why?"

If you don't have kids - think back to those times when you wished you did ask something, or if you can remember when you were a kid - asking those very same questions.

As an exercise, go somewhere this weekend that feels alien to you or, approach someone at work who does something different to you and set aside some time to ask questions about where you are or why things are done that way. Be humble, take step back and listen - you'll be surprised about what you learn.

Have fun!