Human Centered Design

I recently attended a conference about service management and ITIL. I went expecting to learn a lot about processes, procedures and rules for providing value for a company and I did learn quite a bit about that in the sessions I attended. However, one session in particular stood out to me above all the others, and it had nothing to do with rules and procedures. This was a session on human centered design led by Katrina Macdermid.

Katrina defined human centered design as: “Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving… It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs.”

This immediately struck me as relevant to the AV world and how we need to practice human centered design. Human centered design is about listening to the people you are designing for and providing a solution that works for them. A key strategy in this form of design is to watch people do their work. Then do follow-up discussions with the people, asking questions about why they do things certain ways. This study is critical, because a designer can’t provide a great solution until she truly understands what she is designing. The design method can be applied by the entire AV industry from manufacturers to integrators to technology managers.

There are three main phases to this design process. The first step is the discover phase, which is very abstract. You are doing the watching and learning in this phase. You ask questions about how processes work and how services work. You’re learning what the people do that you are trying to provide product or service for. In the AV world, this would be a manufacturer or an integrator visiting customers and watching them use the technology. Something that takes getting used to in this process is to NOT ask the customer what they want. Typically, people will only tell you about the improvements they want to their current system, rather than think about an entirely new solution. The famous Henry Ford quote hit this concept on the head: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Well… an HBR articles says that Ford may not have actually have said those words, but the meaning still stands. That same HBR article says, “An innovator should have understanding of one’s customers and their problems via empirical, observational, anecdotal methods or even intuition. They should also feel free to ignore customers’ inputs.” So, the process may ignore a customer’s input, but does not ignore the customers needs. Ford’s customers wanted to get somewhere faster; they just did not know a vehicle was possible. In AV this may be an example of a customer telling an integrator they want a room with a projector and screen. A good integrator will ask to visit the room, meet with the customer and observe what they are trying to do. They may be in the room and find that the walls are covered with glass writing surfaces and they are used regularly during business meetings. The integrator will then need to watch and understand what the need for the projection is. They don’t yet offer solutions; they simply try to understand the problem.

The second step in this process is the ideate process. This is when your thinking starts to become concrete as you define the problem. In this phase, rather than immediately proposing a problem, you become creative and ask “what if?” questions. You may ask: What if we cover the whiteboards with the screen? What if we have a retractable ceiling mounted screen? What if we put monitors on the conference table for display so we don’t block the whiteboards? What if the surface of the table was a monitor with touch capability? It is during this phase of the process that you need to be the most creative. The designer needs to think about not what solution worked for the last client, but rather, what solution is going to work for this client.

The final phase is the prototype phase. This is where you build a prototype of the solution. You implement it so that the customer can work with it and decide what works and what does not. You have to be sure you do this as a prototype, because you need to be able to change it. In this part of the process an agile approach is required. A great way to learn about how to approach this process is the book, “The Lean Startup”. This book outlines in details how to go about building, testing and re-building products and services.

This process is a long way from selling boxes or pre-packaged solutions. It requires time and patience on the designer’s end. However, the value it brings is invaluable to the customer — and to your bottom line.

Image via Katie McCurdy on Medium