Human Centered Design

Is Human-Centered Design Right For Your Organization?

By Denny Royal

January 26, 2018

How do we become more innovative?

How do we create new growth opportunities?

How do we respond to a rapidly changing business landscape?

If your organization is asking these types of questions, there’s a good chance you’re ready for human-centered design.

It’s not easy to transition from an engineering or production culture, to a design culture, but the benefits are worth it. When you truly put human needs at the center of strategy, you create a foundational culture that helps your business or organization stay relevant. You’ll create products and services people desire through better understanding of the emotions, goals, problems, motivations, and unmet needs of those you’re trying to serve.

Plus, you’ll build a more inspired workplace over the long term.

But Again, It’s Not Easy

From the outside, the process of design may look simple. (In part, because well-designed solutions are often simple and elegant.) However, lots of organizations and individuals struggle to embrace the mindset and rigorous demands of human-centered design.

In old-school business culture, we’re often compensated for having immediate answers to the problems at hand. But solutions to big questions don’t come so quickly. And it’s not always easy to admit we don’t have the answers, let go of preconceptions, and settle in for a transformative journey.

Adopting a human-centered design practice requires good change management to ensure success. This article will give some perspectives on what’s required to get started.

Developing Internal Sponsorship

The right level of engagement and sponsorship throughout an organization is key for successful change management. Having the right level of sponsorship ensures the proper budget, staffing and time can be assigned to budding design work.

Also, executive sponsorship is important, even if they’re not involved directly with the work. Make sure executive sponsors understand what human-centered design can and can’t do for an organization. It’s a powerful discipline, but it’s not a silver bullet for every organizational monster.

Also, innovation rarely coincides with quarterly earnings reports. When done right, it’s a long-tail effort that needs proper care and feeding.

Dedicating Full-time Attention

Responsibility for design initiatives can’t be a part-time job.

In order to survive the whirlwind of regular business activities, new human-centered design projects need dedicated leadership—an individual or team that facilitates and executes the process, guiding and working alongside subject-matter experts in your organization.

The likelihood of success decreases drastically, if participants in the design work aren’t allowed enough time to learn and execute the process.

Building the Right Team

Design skills and experience can (and should) be enhanced, but curiosity cannot.

Most people either inherently have curiosity, or they don’t. So what we’re looking for with new hires or existing employees are the lifelong learners who will have the psychological makeup to sustain the ongoing exploration and research required to support good design work.

In addition to building a design team with curious and skilled individuals, you’ll also need to provide them access to the subject-matter experts in your organization. Together, they’ll have the foundation to succeed in whatever direction the design work leads. so they can work together to create.

Understanding the Rigor Involved

Co-creation and brainstorming sessions can be fun. But that’s just a small part of design work.

Countless hours of revisions and a maniacal attention to detail are required. Endless days of research, synthesis, prototyping, testing and iteration go into every successful design execution. It’s often boring, grinding, and emotionally draining, and that’s if you’re doing it right!

It’s worth it in the end, but be prepared to work hard, and make sure you take care of and have empathy for your teammates.

Leaning on Outside Help

You don’t have to make the leap into human-centered design on your own.

Organizations often want to bring design inside the organization, and that’s great. But having an outside team to coach the process—especially in the beginning—is extremely helpful. As mentioned previously, leading design work isn’t something that can easily be added to an employee’s existing responsibilities.

There’s no replacing a trained designer, or design team, who does this kind of work day in and day out. That’s why many companies hire outside firms to guide internal projects. Plus, bringing an outside perspective to your projects will invariably have a positive effect.

Getting Comfortable with Ambiguity

Preparing to be comfortable with ambiguity is pretty much impossible. But recognizing and naming ambiguity when you’re in the middle of it is helpful.

Learning to be comfortable with open questions is kind of like muscle memory. The more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes. However, that uncomfortable feeling never really goes away, and that’s a good thing, because it drives the process forward.

The process, tools and mindsets help design teams move through ambiguity to find solutions for the problem at hand. But design is a messy business, and it’s important to own that.

Having an Open Mind

Human-centered design is more than a discipline. It’s a way of being that filters down to your core as a brand and organization.

At the end of the day, projects will not turn out like you expected them to. But that’s what innovation is all about. And to create it, we have to silence our need to provide quick answers, and instead remain open to different perspectives and viewpoints. That’s the fundamental preparation for design work.

To learn more about human-centered design, or working with Azul Seven, contact us.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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