“I guess the risk is, what if everything goes right? Yes you're comforted that you were right. But you haven't actually learned anything, just that you're very smart and can do things right the first time, which is great. But in the process, you can do better by going wrong. I learn when I fail”
Guillaume Dehan, Master of Technological Futures graduate and founder of social enterprise fintech Fund a Future.
Traditional education pushes individuals to get the answer right as fast as possible. And business, with its mandate to maximise the space between what is spent and what is earnt, puts pressure on getting things right the first time. All this adds up to a risk adverse environment, where failure is deemed to be wrong. But what if we turn that frown upside down to see failure in a different light?
Enter human-centered design: a method or process that is fundamentally about answering a need, by using empathy, an holistic view and iteration. Human-centered design is not new and is part of the wider evolution of design thinking that first sprung in the 1960s as ‘design science’, a term coined by the innovator and inventor Buckminster Fuller. For more on the history of design thinking, this article is a good read.
Design is not only done in the marketing department
Human-centered design is exactly what you think it might be - putting humans, and their needs, at the centre of any design, be it for a product or a service.
Where it gets a little more complex is that true human-centred design is a whole of business approach - asking that you build products or services that include a human component in every interaction a customer has with the company but also that the development and design is not done in siloed business and technology departments.
Always remember who it's for
The ‘customer’ (and there will often be many different personas to consider) is who everyone in the business starts with. This empathetic focus changes the way the people inside the business operate - from engineers to accountants, front line and up to executive leadership teams. Because when you know who you’re designing for, it gives so much more purpose to what you do.But know this, it’s not a one and done type of approach - its a strategy that encourages constant iteration, feedback loops and rapid prototyping. You have to get comfortable with failure, but as Guillaume Dehan puts it in his quote above, getting things wrong gives you the opportunity to learn. And from failure, creativity will spring.
Opportunity lies in the unknown
To achieve a more fluid approach to design that doesn’t shy away from testing and learning, existing operational processes need to be decoupled from the design process. Because ‘how we do it now’ can place constraints on creative thinking - those set boundaries you have to design within, that idea of ‘feasibility’ within the known.
At Tech Futures Lab, we explore human-centered design as one of the tools or methods available to support the innovation process on the Master of Technological Futures. It opens up ideas yet keeps focus on the problem you’re trying to solve.
Innovation Advisor at Tech Futures Lab and design thinking advocate Taurean Butler believes that because human centered design supports creative problem solving, it ultimately leads to better outcomes. “Design is a way to solve systems and challenges. Human-centered design makes sure you’re thinking about that person who is navigating their way through the system your product or service is a part of”.
Do it for the right reasons
For smaller more nimble companies, implementing a human centric design philosophy is easier. But for larger companies, it can take time, because it takes a huge mindset shift and trust in the process.
Human centered design may free you from existing procedures and operational limitations but it also has to be free of immediate business priorities. The approach says to business: deprioritise what you’re trying to achieve - incremental sales, year on year growth, shareholder returns - and instead focus on what your customers are wanting to achieve.
Because if you get that part right, the goals of the business will be met. Maybe even exceeded.