Is Human-Centered Design The Future of Innovation?

The human perspective of how you analyze an issue and find a solution is the essence of how the next wave of technology will be designed. This is known as human-centered design.

This movement of anchoring the human experience to the solution is all about fashioning technology to work for you. By designing with humans in mind, we can anticipate and consider human error, culture, and accessibility.

Human-centered design concepts can be used to solve a variety of problems and are particularly valuable during a crisis. 

In this article, we are going to unearth the key elements of human-centered design and why you are the key to everything. 

What is Human-Centered Design? 

Human-centered design is an innovative approach to problem-solving that starts with the people you’re designing for, and ends with a new solution to meet their unique needs.

It’s about building empathy and understanding, generating ideas, and enabling accessibility and adaptability of a product. Designing based on the human perspective is all about pushing the bounds of innovation and empowering people.

“When we think of the human experience of digital transformation, it is often tech led. We need to start from a human-centric approach to solve your problem and the context that a person is in when they encounter that experience.

Kate O’Neil, CEO, KO Insights 

Let’s take a closer look into the five key aspects of human-centered design.

1. Be empathetic

The foundation of human-centered design is to understand the people who are experiencing a problem before you design a solution. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes to understand their purpose.

  • In what circumstances will they use your design?
  • What problem are they trying to solve? 
  • What is most important to them?

Instead of making assumptions about what people want, talk to them. Many designers immerse themselves in a community to observe work environments, ask questions, and learn pain points. This is the most important process in human-centered design because it focuses on how people will engage with your product by bringing them into the brainstorming process.


2. Define the problem

Once we understand ‘what’ the human-centered design will be used for, then we have to define the ‘why’. Asking this question allows your team to focus on the key actions you want to accomplish. It also brings the purpose of human-centered design to the forefront.

Human-centered design thinking in terms of air pollution

Why do we need air quality data

Why is civic engagement important?

Why do we need a report?

Why is this environmental data and its impacts on human health going to be important?

The way you define a problem anchors your design process in the human perspective. It acts as the guiding principle that will enable your team to creatively design answers that can be fact checked to ensure that they are meeting the needs of your customers. 

3. Ideate

Now that we understand what problems people are experiencing, and why we have to design an actionable solution, we can start brainstorming answers. This creative process should encourage team members to think about solutions they would want, without discouraging their creative processes.

If you had a magic wand, what would you want to happen?

The goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible and to think ‘big’. Many times, the more extravagant ideas scaled back may be the right solution. Team members should also think about how their design is going to perform, scale, and improve the user’s experience and productivity. If you can design with all these key elements in mind, you can drive results for your business.

You should also consider your timeline. Where do you want to be in a year? Five years? What tools are going to help your users that will also help you meet your goals? Encourage out-of-the box ides and co-design with the people you are serving. Their voice with your ability to create will iron out issues and produce a bottom-up solution. 

4. Enable accessibility  

Accessibility is the heart of the whole idea. We are packaging things together in a much more human way. The people who need to know have access, and can cause actual change in the world.

-Cormac Driver, Head of Product Engineering at Temboo

The human-centered design process should have an inclusive component that enables accessibility. By communicating to a wide audience, we can learn from their responses, help more people, and continuously evolve our designs to meet the needs of a changing human reality. In the case of natural disasters, increasing socioeconomic disparities, or a global pandemic, human-centered design can help alleviate inequality.

Let’s look at 2020 and the cracks that have formed from the limitations of our societal resources in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Specifically speaking, HHS spends billions of dollars on programs to save lives and keep people economically afloat.

Due to budget constraints and more people interacting with HHS agencies for the first time ever, the department is struggling to meet the demands of their users. HHS agencies cannot simply scale-up their existing processes to help more people. It takes forethought to anticipate and design a resilient solution in a time of need.

In response to this, HHS decided to change their process to a human-centered approach, introducing new programs when resources and time were tight.

A health and service professional

The mission of HHS is to enhance the health and well-being of Americans by providing effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.

HHS focused on solutions that would create the greatest impacts, such as an extension for premium payments, and mapped out how that information would be communicated. By placing the human experience at the center of their strategy, HHS reduced the number of messages that were being sent, and streamlined key pieces of information. Because let’s face it, no one wants to receive a million messages about their healthcare. By making their communications more accessible, HHS not only improved user experience but allowed them to support more people. 

5. Test & Adapt

This is the time to put your human-centered design to the test. You can think of this phase as the Quality and Assurance (Q&A) stage, where the people who will benefit from the design test out the product to identify any weaknesses or gaps.

During this time, it’s important to provide the design without any orientation because the user may think of improvements that are outside of your creative box. It’s also imperative to listen to their feedback and not defend your product. Being empathic means putting your ego aside, and developing a solution that will fundamentally work for people. 

After receiving feedback from the initial users, it’s time to adapt your design. This is an opportunity to produce a solution that will constantly evolve to meet the demands of your clients. It is also a way to ensure your design is resilient to changing circumstances, and that it will continue to be a source of reliability for those who use your product. 

Now that we know what that the five guiding principles of human-centered design are, let’s see how some human-centered products are operating in the real world.

Ikea & Human-Centered Design

Ikea human-centered design self-assembly guide

Ah Ikea, the store that has it all.

From giant warehouses filled with all the furniture you could want, to food cafeterias serving up Swedish meatballs, there’s nothing this company can’t fit into a lot. Yet, despite Ikea’s enormous catalog, the company is making billions of dollars by approaching the design of their products from a human-centered perspective. 

Fundamental to the organization is its commitment to people. Ikea strives to provide a product design that meets its consumer’s requirements and needs, spanning from functionality and quality, to sustainability and low prices. They understand that their customers want quality products that fit into their homes while not breaking the bank. Ikea’s products illustrate human-centered design protocols in several ways. 

First, every Ikea store is completely designed with a human-centered approach. The stores are meant to give customers the maximum level of comfort, and provide a relaxing experience to help them make buying decisions. Have you gotten lost in an Ikea store? I have, but luckily they had arrows on the floor to point me in the right direction. This is one example of how Ikea anticipates what people like me are thinking, and helps us feel secure that we can follow signs to get back on the right path through the store. 

Ikea’s displays are also carefully curated for a consumer’s eye. Ikea categorizes products based on the room of the home and their relation to each other. This forethought helps consumers see how their products can be laid out and used.

Ikea takes another step forward in human-centered design with their self-assembly instructions. The instructions are designed to allow anyone to build their products based completely on visuals. This makes their instructions accessible to anyone, regardless of their education or engineering ability.

I’d like to mention that I’ve assembled many Ikea products and been left with several extra nuts and bolts. Though this is concerning because I feel like I should have used every piece of hardware, I am proud to say my Ikea products are still standing. It goes to show that you can create functional, good quality products that don’t require a team to build. And if a customer can’t figure out the hyper visual instructions, (or just doesn’t want to) they have an assembling assistance service to help them out.

Nonprofits & Human-Centered Design

Human-centered design in the nonprofit world is disrupting business-as-usual, and here at Temboo, we are putting the concept into practice.

Since the inception of data, there has always been a wall dividing the scientist from the mass public. However, by using a human-centered design approach, we are democratizing technology to empower people with data that can be used for accessibility and advocacy purposes.

The New York Times recently covered our work on environmental engagement projects and highlighted our approach to designing human-centered technology for nonprofits. But let’s dig into the human-centered design aspects that are differentiating us from any other platform. 

Temboo has checked off all the human-centered design protocols. 

  • Be empathetic: We understand the importance of environmental data, civic engagement, and funding for community-based organizations. We’ve been able to acquire this information by listening to our partners and understanding what their needs and goals are, and what they need to engage their communities. See our case-study with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy.
  • Define the problem: We understand why this information and data is valuable in telling their stories and solving their problems. Why is someone motivated to understand the investments and benefits of green infrastructure? Perhaps it is because low-income communities have less green infrastructure, which means less nature to offset air and water pollution, leading to higher asthma rates and flooding. 
  • Ideate: Once we were able to define our customer’s purpose, we were able to design our no-code environmental engagement platform, Kosmos. Kosmos empowers people to feel like they are part of the solution through our notes feature, which allows volunteers to add annotations, upload photos, and provide more context to sensor data. What other platform allows you to combine environmental monitoring with citizen-science? None! We’re providing nonprofits and their volunteers a fun, engaging way to interact with their environment and community. 
Temboo's Kosmos notes and photo feature
  • Enable accessibility: We understand the importance of accessibility. Be leveraging our no-code technology, almost anyone can deploy a remote sensing project in minutes. Depending on the organization, the data can be made publicly accessible as well. Speaking of data, we display it in a clear, modern dashboard with an intuitive user interface that allows everyone to not just see the information, but really understand it.
  • Test and adapt: By bringing the people we’ve designed for into our entire process, we’ve been able to learn how to make Kosmos an extremely useful environmental engagement tool for our customers. For example, we recently incorporated the EPA’s public air quality into our platform. Our users told us that air quality sensor data can be even more compelling if it contrasted with data collected from the EPA.

Human-centered design will continue to be the backbone of Temboo’s products. We will continue to be a source of innovation, because you are our source of inspiration. 

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