Product Design

Making the Business Case for Human-Centered Design

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Too often, technology solutions for a business are designed without fully taking into consideration the people (both inside and outside an organization) who will use them and the environment in which they will be experienced.

Asking employees and customers to conform and adjust their behavior to fit a product or process may appear to be the easiest path forward, but it typically leads to user frustration, poor customer experiences and resistance to adopting the new system -- all leading to business inefficiencies.

For solutions to take hold, they must be rooted in empathy and compassion for the very people who will be using and supporting them: The design must be human centered. Taking a human-centered design approach means leading with people’s wants, needs and behavior; developing a deep understanding of tasks, work flow, culture, environments and technology; and ensuring users are involved throughout the design process.

What that means is that every design decision is made with this question in mind: “Does this make sense from a user’s perspective?” For example, if a company were designing a coffeemaker, where should the power button be placed? Should it go on the top, left side, bottom or right? Should it make a click noise when pushed in or more of a pop sound? And should a light go on when the button has been successfully pushed all the way or is the sound enough?

These are a lot of questions to ask about a simple on/off button. But they’re important questions to have in mind (and answer) to ensure that the user ultimately has a product that works effectively, intuitively and beautifully.  

Related: The Man Who Invented the Cubicle Went to His Grave Hating What His Creation Had Become

If the process of creating human-centered design (which relies on the user’s point of view when developing a solution to a problem) is implemented properly, the results can be far-reaching. Not only will clients be happy with their products’ usability and consumers pleased with their purchases but also employees will be satisfied working for a company that takes into consideration the actual people they are creating solutions for.

A work environment that embraces and promotes empathy and understanding in its culture promotes employee recruitment and retention. Everyone wants to feel like he or she is making a difference. And at a company where peoples’ wants, wishes and needs are taken into consideration when a service or product is developed, employees truly are.

Would you rather stay at a company that cares deeply and holistically or one that focuses only on the profit margin? The answer is seemingly obvious. 

Time after time, I’ve seen companies, ranging from startups to vast institutions, invest in the latest technology, the proverbial silver bullet, believing that it will solve any and all business challenges.

What they’re missing is this: Success isn’t generated by technology. It is created by people. Take the time to deeply understand the motivations, needs, wants and preferences of all stakeholders -- employees, customers, investors and constituents -- at a human level and success will follow. 

Related: Smart Design Connects the Dots

Say your business is growing, demand is high, and you find your customer-relationship-management and enterprise-resource-planning systems aren’t keeping pace. Your salespeople aren’t able to provide the on-the-spot quotes needed, as questions about inventory and pricing must be answered by a trip back to the office and a look at separate systems, none of which are talking to the other.

What’s needed is answering a mission-critical question that touches on all major operational components of your business: 

How can the company provide the most efficient response to opportunities that present themselves? A traditional approach might be to re-examine each component of the technology -- to invest in the latest customer-relationship-management  systems.

A human-centered design approach would involve an in-depth assessment of the people, processes, culture and technologies across the ecosystem, how they integrate with one another and how they support customer engagement.

Are your company's systems meeting employees’ needs to create and nurture customer relationships? If not, what needs are going unmet? What needs do you predict moving forward, and how can you make sure your technologies are scalable and sustainable to meet those needs?    

The final answer may well be to customize your existing systems, based on feedback from the employees who use them and the needs of customers and prospects. The human-centered design approach to figuring this out? Put people first, the process second. Only after those two elements are fully understood, and thirdly technology, can you create elegant human solutions.

Related: How to Get an Enormous User Base Without Spending a Dime on Marketing