Human-centered design: a buzzword to coax money out of you or the real deal in cost-efficiency?

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What does a typical digital-oriented customer look like? Tech-savvy, smartphone-addicted, surrounded by various smart thingamajigs that are supposed to make lives easier. Millennials and Gen Z go online to do all kinds of things: explore vacation destinations, shop for clothes, schedule a doctor’s appointment or to optimize their work-life balance. Spoon-fed with hundreds of offers, they automatically sift through them to make sure they got the best fit or a truly unique product.

How can your company get through the filters and prove its worth? First, you have to understand what people need. The discovery phase is what you need to make sure you weigh everything including the UX before initiating the development. Then, you must offer a solution to their struggles in the most convenient and understandable form. Easier said than done: a lot of projects implement their idea first and then look for ways to sell it to the customers. They often fail, though, running out of budget or yielding to competitors.

Human-centered design is the way to approach product development from a proper angle—that of a customer. It focuses on your end-users and their everyday lives, emotions, behavior and attitude. By putting end-users at the center of your digital design process, you focus on solving their actual needs rather than guessing what they might want. This approach to software development is called design thinking.

Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design

Design thinking is a five-step process that aims at the efficient development of solutions to be adopted by users. Human-centered design (HCD) is a tool to use along this process. Together, they create a positive long-term effect on the product’s end users. How does it work and do you really need it? Read through these HCD steps from Selecto and decide for yourself.

Stage 1: Observation

The initial goal of the design team is to understand what people want and single out a problem they will handle next. To that end, we make assumptions and carry out user research to confirm, disprove or modify our hypotheses. Our main questions during this stage are:

• Who are our users?

• What do they struggle with?

• In what context (time, place, device, etc.) can they use our product/service?

The design team has to clarify where, how and by whom the solution will be used.

Stage 2: Ideation

Next, we go deeper into user research by analyzing our target audience. Using various methods, we study users’ motivations, behavior, goals and so on. The product design team works on:

• user personas

• customer journeys

• empathy maps

• sketches

We can use a JTBD framework to visualize the results of this stage:

JTBD framework in use

Stage 3: Prototyping

Now it’s time to create MVPs. Prototypes will help find out whether the market will adopt our solution. In design thinking, prototypes are made in cooperation with stakeholders and end users. An MVP should include only the critical features you want to test like interaction, logo, purchase options, etc. It’s not about getting it right from the get-go but about learning. You don’t want to spend too much time making an eye-catching MVP and then watch your money go down the drain.

“Human-centered design starts from a place of not knowing what the solution to a given design challenge might be. Only by listening, thinking, building and refining our way to an answer do we get something that will work for the people we’re trying to serve.”

Tim Brown, IDEO  

Stage 4: Testing

This stage covers both user testing and usability testing. First thing, we need to double check that our product really solves the problem and that customers will adopt it. Second, we should test the user experience design and refine our prototype to meet customers’ expectations. For example, when you’re updating a mobile app, testing should be used as a touch-stone to ensure the satisfaction of end users.

Stage 5: Iteration

By engaging people in product design along the way, you will spend less time fixing mistakes and free up extra hours for creativity. Cheap prototypes to assess key product assumptions, ongoing interviews and other testing methods, close contact with stakeholders and users—all of this means testing and iteration, iteration, iteration. HCD will help you ensure that your solution offers some really outstanding user experience.

“Instead of hiding out in our workshops, betting that an idea, product or service will be a hit, we quickly get out in the world and let the people we’re designing for be our guides.”

Gaby Brink, CEO Sparkwise

Product team working on the product's next version

So, what’s your verdict? Does HCD mean cost-efficiency or a waste of money? As our experience shows, efficient budgeting and optimized development based on design thinking principles might be the best bet. At Selecto, we believe that product design should be on a par with technology and business since each of these three components approaches the solution from a different angle and answers a different question about the product:

• Business: How can we make money?

• Technology: What can we build and deliver?

• Design: What does the user need?

You cannot build the right solution in the usual fashion, as it might contradict the users’ interests and therefore affect your business. So, everything boils down to four simple rules on how to create a human-centered product design:

• Focus on real users with real problems

• Remember that not all problems are worth solving—get to the roots

• Keep an eye on the big picture, not just on local experiences

• You are not a user—go ahead and test your ideas

Are you curious to know how the Selecto design team implements their HCD ideas into life? Check out our cases or contact our design team lead directly.

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