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How to Make a Strong Case for Human-Centered Design

Wondering If Human-Centered Design is a Good Idea? Here’s Your Answer.

Today, I will share some information about the Human-Centered Design (HCD) process with you that will help you put people at the center of your strategic problem-solving methods.

Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company who wants to design and deploy new product releases, or you’re a start-up, trying to launch and define what your MVP release is, putting people at the center of your process is critical for success.

Let’s dive into the genesis of Human-Centered Design and the frameworks that can be beneficial for you to think about implementing in your organization.

When talking about solving problems, it’s helpful to start at a more abstract level, and that’s where a diagram called, “The Squiggle” by Damien Newman comes in handy. You can talk about and diagram how, as people, we need to digest information to understand our current context. Based on processing the information that we have and creating a broader understanding of the issues, we’re able to better choose the problems that we want to solve. It’s when we’re laser focused and well-directed that we’re transformed into craftsmen and craftswomen, aiming to deliver solutions that solve specific problems, at the tail end of “The Squiggle.”

The Squiggle illustration

Source: The Squiggle of Design, Retrieved March 5, 2018, from

The main thing that I like to point out in this diagram and communicate to other people is that, in the beginning, things aren’t very clear, and we need to listen and learn. There’s a lot to think through, which takes a magnitude of patience, especially with an energetic team that is ready to get going.

It takes different skill sets as you move through this process and an understanding that the group of people driving the process at the beginning and the group of people creating the solutions may be different. “The Squiggle,” has labels for research, concept, and design. Design is a word that’s a very loaded term, but for now, let’s think about it as crafting artifacts and designing specific things. By using this as our starting point, we’ll transition into talking about other HCD frameworks.

Now let’s take a look at a model created by IDEO. IDEO is regarded as the pioneer that popularized Human-Centered Design, and they’ve developed a few different models.

IDEO diagram

Source: ResearchGate, Retrieved March 5, 2018, from

It’s this first diagram that IDEO published that depicts how HCD work moves between concrete and abstract. It’s in the “Hear” phase, or step, of this process where you’re trying to observe, and you’re learning. You’re understanding the pains of different stakeholders, their current situation and discovering their motivations. You begin synthesizing, and summarizing it all, and sharing it with the rest of the team.

Having completed some initial research, you can then try to process the information to develop themes and translate it into actionable items. At this point you can create a shared view for the team. It may start to take the shape of different stories and different problem statements that will then turn the team’s energy and focus on generating solutions.

Then, work shifts to ideation. In this model, you’re moving first from concrete learning (current state) to abstract themes, then to more concrete solutions, while trying to interpret problems statements and create concepts for potential solutions.

As you move into “Deliver,” you’re taking your early concepts, and you’re deciding what you’re going to move forward with and begin testing against your current understanding, framework and with real people.

More recently, IDEO has developed a model that takes into account some feedback from practice.

IDEO approach diagram

Source: IDEO, Retrieved March 5, 2018, from

This diagram includes a different representation of divergent and convergent thinking; you’re iteratively expanding your thinking and synthesizing the information. In the image above, the names of these significant chunks of work have changed. So “Hear,” “Create,” and “Deliver,” is now “Inspiration,” “Ideation,” and “Implementation.”

Typically, you’ll start with “Hear” to gather inspiration, while still doing research and working to understand current context. Then you begin to develop themes to determine what you’ll select to validate further before soliciting input from the team. Working alongside both technical and business folks, you’re collaborating to understand the viability and feasibility of ideas, in addition to the desirability, which is the starting point of Human-Centered Design.

IDEO has created two different representations of the HCD process. More recently, there have been some exciting mash-ups of Lean, Lean UX, Agile, and Design Thinking. Again, starting at more concrete, moving to divergent thinking and this model has been combined with the software development cycle. As you move from ideas and begin to develop and release software, you’re getting feedback and data and you are synthesizing that information and making decisions on the subsequent iterations of your product. When you begin building software there is a smaller loop here that represents a smaller, focused effort—perhaps a technical spike of proof or proof of concept.

Mashup diagram

Source: Noteworthy- The Journal Blog, Retrieved March 5, 2018,

It’s at this point here at OpenArc, during the transition from ideas to building solutions where we most-closely align with clients to fuel their development cycle. The three primary drivers are:

1. The high-level-user experience: The patterns, the types of interactions, and the flows.

2. Technical architecture: The tech stack, the integration points within existing systems, and the plan to move from the current product to the next product.

3. Backlog: The user stories or epics and prioritizing with the product owner to understand what the MVP release is and potential release milestones.

Now that we’ve covered some of the different frameworks for Human-Centered Design, you’re probably wondering, “Well, how do I put that into action for my specific project?” Let’s explore further and talk about Human-Centered Design methods, and how they fit into each of the major blocks that we talked about, and how you can choose based upon the needs of your specific project.

It’s likely you’ve made a certain amount of progress already in your journey. Realizing every product design or development effort is unique, you may have built a repository of internal knowledge, and now need to fill in the gaps to develop a product that’s going to be useful and usable for your audience.

Within the library of Human-Centered Design methods there’s a kind of a general methodology, a way that you can engage a team to gather information and summarize it to inform your work and how you move forward. For example, you might do some card sorting to understand how end-users understand groupings of information and how they might navigate. You might do a heuristic review if you have an existing product and you’re looking for high-value usability improvement opportunities.

Next, with your findings, you may then synthesize the information and summarize the data using other techniques, like journey mapping. Thus, plotting different user types over time, their interactions with your product or service to better understand the things that are working, the pain points, and any viable opportunities, as well as a competitive mapping.

Next up, you will likely complete a different combination of the following activities:

• Develop statement starters
• Generate stakeholder mapping, to understand the relationships between people
• Create Personas

Finally, you might work to envision solutions using some of the following methods:

• Organize a storyboard
• Complete physical prototyping
• Create a video scenario for physical products
• List out priorities and develop a roadmap
• Test with end-users

To wrap this up, let me outline some of the reasons why Human-Centered design is a good idea, and why you need to have the conversation with your company about using it.

Reason #1: First and foremost, probably one of the central themes here, is it focuses up-front and throughout on people. So, you’re not designing something and then testing it with people and getting feedback and hoping that it resonates. You include people up-front in the process, developing around their needs, understanding what’s desirable, based on your current context, which will make the development efforts, which are much harder to change and much costlier to replace, of higher value.

Reason #2: It helps with team engagement. The way that designers work, not that everything involved in a Human-Centered Design process involves designers, but designers and design thinking usually lead it, is transparent. It is this transparency that helps with team engagement, making things visual, having a cadence for sharing thoughts, iterating on it, and then making it visible to the team. And this engagement– and sometimes pulling in outside expertise on the team that you form helps to accelerate the process because you’re pulling in different skills to see things from different perspectives.

Reason #3: Your access to valuable and varying perspectives. You’re bringing together interdisciplinary professionals who see things from different angles. A bonus is that the involvement of people throughout the process is a form of risk reduction. So, you’re not waiting until the end to unveil what it is that you’ve done. You’re not waiting to engage people at specific gates in the process. A good team is interdisciplinary, and you’re reducing risk by including them and focusing on users throughout.

Reason #4: Finally, some of the Human-Centered Design methods that we’ve talked about are focused on prioritization. Each of the divergent/convergent cycles helps you prioritize to create a roadmap to see the impact to different roles and different teams to develop an MVP product and beyond.

As the Director of Human-Centered Design at OpenArc, I would love to get your feedback. Please use the email address included here to get ahold of me.

To watch my presentation on Human-Centered Design, complete with whiteboarding and additional illustrations, click PLAY on the video below: