Human centered design, an approach to problem solving that starts with people and ends with solutions to meet their needs, is a process that consists of three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. During the inspiration phase, the designers will simply learn about and learn from their audience – opening themselves up to creative possibilities, and trusting that as long as they remain true to the wants and needs of the people they’re designing for, their ideas will evolve into the correct solution. During the ideation phase, the designers (and their stakeholders) will come up with ideas – lots of them. The bad ideas will be tossed, the good ideas will be refined over and over again. The ideas will continue to be tested, prototypes will be made with countless iterations, and feedback will be integrated. After the final idea is solidified, partnerships will be made, business meetings will occur, the idea will be advertised, and the world will hopefully be changed for the better because of it.
Emi Kolawole, Editor-in-residence at the Stanford University d.school, believes that empathy is one of the most important parts of human centered design. Empathy lies at the heart of human centered design, she says, because people are at the heart of human centered design: it’s all about understanding. In order to have true human centered design, you have to understand the people you’re designing for, you have to understand their needs. We can’t come up with any new ideas if all we do is exist in our own lives. In order to get to new solutions, we have to get to know new people, we have to travel, we have to immerse, we have to do something different. When attempting human centered design, Kolawole says, if you’re not surprised – you’re doing it wrong.
To John Bielenberg, founder of Future Partners, optimism is one of the most important parts of human centered design. Some of the design challenges that designers who utilize human centered design face are extremely daunting, and Bielenberg believes that the bigger the challenge, the more necessary optimism becomes. Optimism is a yes, a yes to someone presenting you with a challenge and a design objective. Optimism is what drives us forward, a belief that we can solve the problems before us, “the art of possibility.”
The most important part of the inspiration phase of human centered design is the interviewing process. IDEO’s Design Kit outlines a few key steps to unlocking insights and understanding that designers could never get simply researching behind a desk. First, interviews should be conducted – if possible – in the interviewee’s space. You can learn much more about a person and their lifestyle by talking with them where they live or work. Second, no more than three research team members should attend a single interview so as not to overwhelm the participant. Each member should have a clear role. Third, the researcher(s) should come prepared with a set of questions they’d like to ask. When hearing their answers, it’s important to write down exactly what they’re saying, not what you think they might mean. The process is all about hearing exactly what people are saying. Lastly, what the person says is only one data point. It’s important to observe the interviewee’s body language as well. The goal of an interview is to really understand the experiences, needs, and desires of the person you’re designing for.
During the ideation phase, soliciting feedback on your ideas and prototypes is one of the most important parts of the process. Once you’ve done a ton of research, performed countless interviews, gotten great feedback, have an idea you’re excited about, and you’ve begun working on it and prototyping it, it’s easy to think you’ve almost made it. However, you aren’t – post-initial prototype feedback is necessary, because if the point of a prototype is to test an idea, collecting feedback from potential users is what pushes things forward. Honest feedback is crucial, and a variety of feedback from diverse users is important for pushing ideas further and making sure your design speaks to each person you’re designing for.
During the implementation phase, you’re still not done tweaking. Even though your solution is ready to get out there into the world – or if it’s already out there – iterations can and should still be made. How could your solution be even better? Keep gathering feedback, continuing to iterate, and building what you’ve learned back into your solution, and the impact will grow.
An example of a great human centered design process is Vroom – a large scale messaging campaign celebrating everyday moments as learning opportunities, the fundamental message being that taking advantage of the many chances to engage with a child strengthens the foundation of that child’s brain development. The IDEO team began with an immersive inspiration phase, visiting low-income communities in a wide variety of cities to conduct interviews with parents and observe existing programs aimed at improving child development outcomes. The team found that, in multiple ways, many of the parents did not feel equipped to engage with their children.
After the research was complete, the team synthesized its findings and looked for patterns among the interviews. As they put together what they had learned, they formulated a set of design principles for the campaign. They came up with a series of personas, each representing a woman from the communities being served, and invited mothers to the office to review mood boards, listen to sample voices, and provide feedback on which character they would trust for advice. From this, the team realized that most parents were extremely interested in the science behind brain and behavioral development.
By the end of the first two phases, the team had created a strong brief that could be handed to an advertising agency and used as the foundation for a major campaign. They came up with prompts for people to play with their kids, and an ad strategy that included interventions displayed in laundromats instead of on big billboards. After a few years, the Bezos Family Foundation launched the pilot of Vroom.
What Is Human Centered Design? Dir. IDEO. Design Kit. IDEO, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
Empathy. Dir. IDEO. Perf. Emi Kolawole. Design Kit. IDEO, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
Optimism. Dir. IDEO. Perf. John Bielenberg. Design Kit. IDEO, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
"Methods." Design Kit. IDEO, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
"Case Studies." Design Kit. IDEO, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.