Use Human Centered Design to Solve the Right Problems

Back in March I attended a conference where I heard Whitney Mortimer, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer for Ideo, speak on the positive impacts of human centered design.  It resonated with me because here at Aveus we use human centered design (we follow the Stanford d. school model born out of the work of David M. Kelley, Ideo founder) to help many of our clients solve complex problems by getting closer to the needs of their end users.  It has proven to be a compelling way to help organizations come at things from a different angle and reach better outcomes.  See below for a rundown on the 5 essential steps to putting this methodology into practice:

1. Empathize – It seems like this is a buzz word these days that is easy to say, but harder to put into practice. Truly empathizing with users is best done through observation and research.  What are the hidden clues that are not immediately evident?  What are they thinking and feeling at each step in their experience?  Are there extreme users you can learn from?  How does what we learn shape our idea about what to do?  One of my favorite quotes about empathizing is from a doctor at Mt. Sinai hospital: “We are oftentimes so focused on building the bridge, we forget about the people who are crossing it.”

2. Solve the right problem – Often we approach a business objective by “brainstorming” solutions. Developing a need statement that is rooted in empathetic insights can put you on a different course and ultimately uncover better ways to solve that need.  Here is the recipe for creating a strong need statement: Define your user(s), understand needs, and develop insights.  Armed with these ingredients, you can develop a need statement that gives your design team something to sink their teeth into.  Here is a before and after example from a health and wellness company:

Here was the need statement before using human centered design:

Consumers need wellness programs linked to their specific underlying goals and personal situation.

Now, here is the need statement after using human centered design:

Parents (Moms) want to feel their children are learning age appropriate life lessons (vs. simply skill building activities) because they are trying to raise a well-adjusted adult.

What changed?As a business, how would the latter statement affect the way you solved this problem?

3. Ideate – This one is simple if you have a good facilitator:

  • Come up with the broadest range of ideas possible.
  • Do not (yet) be constrained by current realities: Keep the laws of physics outside the room.
  • Once you have an interesting and far-ranging list, select the few best, most creative, boundary-breaking ideas to pursue.

4. Prototype – Develop low-resolution prototypes that can be brought to users for feedback. This step needs good oversight in terms of not allowing the process to “speed up” because we think we have the answer nailed or too quickly focusing on “one right answer.”  We are trained throughout our education to get to the right answer.  In this process, you will find many answers, and through this step, the best ones will emerge. This is your opportunity to mock up a quick and no/low cost prototype that can be brought to users for feedback.  What can you learn from them as they explore a new way of learning about, trying, buying, or using your product or service?

5. Test – Taking a refined prototype into the real context of a user’s everyday life will surely uncover more learning opportunities. This is often the time, to use the words of Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), when you will need to decide whether to “pivot or persevere.”  That decision inherently has an element of the human psyche, which I typify as “don’t call my baby ugly,” that can sometimes get in the way of killing things that aren’t adding enough or the intended value.  Be on the lookout.  At the end of testing, you should have the answer you’re willing to invest in and grow.

Taking an empathetic approach to problem solving can be used to achieve customer experience objectives as well as employee experience objectives.  People like it because it is inclusive and fun!  It’s exciting and can, by the very nature of introducing it to your organization, open new opportunities, unleash energy, and unlock creative potential that may be sitting right inside of your workforce.  One of my favorite quotes from Whitney Mortimer’s presentation said it best: “Creativity is the most important quality for disruptive innovation and continuous re-invention.”

What is your organization doing to innovate or re-invent?

Deborah is a retail and wholesale executive who has spent the last 20 years leading business teams to continuously improve the customer experience.