You may have heard this term, human-centered design (HCD), being thrown around as a buzzword everywhere. But what does it actually mean?
As the name suggests, human-centered design is all about solving problems by putting people at the center of the design process. It starts with conversations with real people to understand who they are, what their context is, and what they need. It involves sharing designs with them early and frequently to hear their feedback about what works (and what doesn’t). And it ends with putting a final product in their hands that they’ve had a say in.
To understand the HCD process, let’s compare it to the process of getting a new pair of glasses.
Step 1: Discover
Imagine you walk into the optical shop to get your first pair of glasses (farewell, 20/20 vision 😭).
The optician asks how they can help you, so you let them know you’re having trouble seeing. The optician recommends an eye exam and invites you to have a seat in front of the… eye exam… device thing. She then asks you to read out a bunch of letters and numbers in decreasing size and asks you to compare a series of different lenses. Is lens one better, or lens two? Is red clearer, or green?
All of these questions are intended to pinpoint what your exact needs are. Similarly as designers, we use various research methods such as interviews, surveys, and user shadowing to paint a clearer picture of who we are designing for. Just as the optician would want to learn things like, do you use the computer a lot? Do you drive? Do you play sports?, we want to ask the right questions to understand not only what is needed, but why it is needed and the context that it will be used.
Step 2: Define
After gathering all the information, we look for insights and opportunities to innovate. We use “how might we” statements to get specific. For example, the optician might have learned that you exercise a lot. Knowing this helps them refine the problem from “how might we help you see clearly?” to “how might we help you see clearly if you are frequently wiping sweat off your face?” As you can see (pun intended), the way we define the problem can alter the solution entirely and the optician might recommend some contact lenses in addition to the glasses you were originally looking for.
Step 3: Design
Now that we have clearly defined the problem, we can start to brainstorm ways to solve it. At 55 Minutes, we believe that innovation happens when people from diverse backgrounds and expertise come together with a common purpose. We invite clients, subject matter experts, and users, to share their first-hand experiences, and to co-design with us. We run ideation workshops using creative thinking frameworks to explore ideas beyond the obvious.
Once we have a promising idea, we create prototypes that demonstrate the core features that solve user needs. At the optical shop, this is like how the optician puts together a pair of trial glasses for you to try — a minimum viable product! Whether we are designing a service, or a physical or digital product, collaboration is at the heart of our process, with stakeholders sharing their input every step of the way.
Step 4: Test
The optician asks you to try on the test glasses and have a walk around to experience them first hand. Is everything clear? Can you see things in the distance? Do you feel dizzy? These questions help the optician test if their prescribed solution meets your needs, and if not, identify what needs to be improved on.
Getting user feedback is a key part of our design process. We test our concepts early, putting prototypes into people’s hands to see what works, what doesn’t, and why. Listening to users helps us pinpoint what to keep, what to improve, and in some cases, sparks brand new ideas.
Step 5: Iterate!
From here, it’s all about refining the prototype and making sure it works for the users. If users tell us the prototype doesn’t work, we go back to the drawing board and use their feedback to inform the next iteration. Once we come up with a prototype that does solve the user’s needs, we can put our design skills to work and create branding and high fidelity designs that will make the product shine!
If you’re anything like me, you know how hard it is to find a pair of glasses that matches you. When you need glasses or an eye check, you go to the optician because you trust them. They have the proper training, tools, and methods to not only diagnose and understand your problem, but also the knowledge and expertise to create and execute a solution. In the same vein, our 55 Minutes team is very proud of the time we’ve spent learning, listening, growing, and mastering the craft of human-centered design so we can go beyond the surface to understand our users and design a solution that truly satisfies their needs. So the next time you have a question pertaining to humans, think of the 55 Minutes team as your friendly neighborhood optician, ready to work with you to get you the solution you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Luke leads UX design at 55 Minutes. He is an enabler who helps an awesome team of researchers and designers deliver top-notch work that is laser focused on solving for real people. Luke has a background designing government digital services, eCommerce platforms, and even physical products. He is a big believer in good vibes and is energized by projects that make people’s lives better.