The world is evolving rapidly, and the pace of change is increasing. Organizations are under pressure to transform as their leaders, customers, citizens and other stakeholders demand more. They face many challenges—building long-term relationships with customers, delivering competitive products and services, driving new ways of working, to name a few. Innovation, change and collaboration are constantly shifting targets.

The traditional corporate mindset does not align with what customers and other stakeholders want today. People want businesses to view them as more than just numbers or data points; and it is a human-centered designer’s job to add a human element to every business solution.

Design encompasses business, strategy, service, product and UX design, and when design takes into consideration the human element within each area, we call it human-centered design. Designers leveraging this approach draw inspiration from users to create engaging experiences that address critical user needs and business objectives. The focus is on deeply understanding users to leverage technology in a way that helps the individual, as opposed to forcing individuals to work within the constraint of a specific technology solution.

This blog focuses on the human-centered design process, describing the steps required to successfully design in an increasingly changing and disruptive economy. 

Step 1: Identifying the business challenge

Having a design mindset is the key to delivering successful outcomes. This mindset encompasses design thinking, agility, curiosity, observing, listening and storytelling. It focuses on identifying users’ motivations, needs, goals, challenges and pain points. At the beginning of the design process, a design mindset helps to identify the business challenge and its effects.

All facets of the challenge must be illuminated, not just the technical aspects. Change directly affects people, including customers and employees. In this new media age, customers, in particular, want more products, services and benefits. Employees, in turn, must carry out tasks required to meet these evolving customer expectations, which requires new ways of working. Meeting the needs of both customers and employees brings new challenges that designers must take the time to identify clearly.

Step 2: Understanding the business challenge

Customers are not all the same. Effective design requires understanding all of the customer segments affected by change, keeping in mind that customer segments are fluid. The same need applies to employees, all of whom have different skills, experiences, tasks and expectations.

Good design also demands an honest assessment of the existing digital infrastructure and future possibilities, as well as the competitive landscape and industry trends. Qualitative and quantitative research can help to get the full picture of the challenge. Today, knowledge about the behavior of competitors is no longer sufficient for a sustainable digital transformation strategy. It also is necessary to take larger aspects of community needs into account (e.g., sustainability needs). In addition, conducting comparisons with pioneers in other markets or that provide other services is key to define one's own point of view accurately.

Because you can spend a lot of time trying to understand all aspects of the challenge, design thinking is a helpful approach because involves both convergent and divergent thinking. Many solutions to a challenge are explored to come up with the best solution, and this type of ideation and non-linear thinking continues to happen continuously over time as the product or service continues to evolve.

Step 3: Generating ideas

The aim of this brainstorming stage is to generate as many ideas as possible. The more ideas generated, the more opportunities to evaluate and build prototypes to test and improve them at an early stage. To generate as many innovative ideas as possible, different tools are available for both individual work and team exercises.

At the end of this idea-finding phase, individuals present their ideas within the work group, which evaluates each idea and determines if there are other ideas to round out the potential solution. In this phase, interaction is quite high, with participants examining all of the ideas presented and selecting the best ones. By introducing limitations (e.g., implementation time and budget, available resources, economic feasibility), ideas can be further defined and tested. Prioritization is key in this stage.

At the end of the idea-finding phase, the work group prioritizes ideas and uses them to develop solutions to demonstrate how each idea can address the business challenge. In this phase, the "time-boxed” approach is of particular importance to prevent too many resources from flowing into just one idea.

Step 4: Developing solution prototypes

The aim of each solution prototype is to present solution ideas clearly and thus make them "comprehensible" in the truest sense of the word. Designers develop prototypes within a very short time period using simple tools because their primary purpose is to enable the validation of ideas without investing significant resources in terms of production or later testing.

A prototype can be anything—pictures and drawings, customer journeys, storyboards, screen layouts, mobile phone videos, role-playing—and, as a result, prototypes widely vary. The key objective is for the prototype to make the solution tangible, visible, explainable and understandable to support the testing of both the solution and user feedback.

Step 5: Testing solution prototypes

This phase involves the presentation of solution prototypes to customers, employees and other users and stakeholders, with a structured approach for soliciting their feedback. The feedback of potential users provides deep insight into not-yet-identified requirements and supports the adjustment of prototypes based on newly identified needs.

Even if users reject a prototype, this is valuable information. No further investment is required, and, as a result, the organization saves time and money.

During testing, new requirements often are uncovered, which leads to another idea-generation phase. In addition, many prototypes are subject to radical changes. Another common result is the combination of two different prototypes to meet the requirements even better.

Step 6: Delivering a minimum viable product (MVP)

After solution prototypes have been tested and modified, there is enough knowledge gained to begin an initial implementation of the proposed solution. This so-called minimum viable product (MVP) features only the most important functions, and designers should use a “time-boxed” approach to deliver it (typically between two and four weeks; also called a sprint). Designers document less important requirements in a so-called product backlog and evaluate them again before each new sprint.

If, in the course of time, designers identify new requirements through user feedback or market shifts, these new requirements might rate higher than the older ones in the backlog. As a result, they can ensure the solution aligns with the most current requirements and integrate them promptly. The faster the changing requirements can be identified and implemented, the more flexible and cost-efficient solutions can be developed.

Conclusion

Especially in this age of information technology, enthusiasm for technical possibilities can lead an organization to lose sight of customer and employee needs and requirements. Human-centered design brings both to the forefront, enabling designers to address them through solutions in the shortest possible time, while also enabling them to adjust solutions ongoing to achieve the highest possible customer and employee satisfaction.

The human-centered design approach makes it possible for designers to identify 80% of a solution in 20% of the time. This saves resources and strengthens competitiveness in times of change and pressing challenges.

If you would like more information on these steps or human-centered design in general, please feel free to contact me.

About this author

Picture of Birgit Blumberg

Birgit Blumberg

Director, Consulting

Birgit Blumberg is a design thinking coach and service design specialist. She advises and supports clients in the transformation of flexible and agile services and outsourcing services.

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