How human-centered design can help companies survive the COVID-19 pandemic
So here we are. Twelve months on from the global spread of Covid-19 and the end is still a distant, blurry dot on the horizon. The impact that the pandemic has had on society is undeniable, so how can human-centered design help companies get through the uncertainty that lies ahead?
Misconceptions around human-centered (human-aware) design
You may think that a bit of research to understand your stakeholder groups might be enough to give you a path forward through rocky plains. After all, if you run an employee focus group, they’ll tell you how you can motivate them to work from home, right?
Wrong. Dominique Jaurola makes a great case for why understanding humanness can help you make better decisions, but I want to look at how you can use human-centered design to build business resilience during and after the pandemic.
It’s astounding how the word ‘design’ conjures up lofty thoughts of a graphic or product designer doing amazing things. In the context of lean, agile and human-centered business, everything is designed with purpose that revolves around humans.
So let’s look at the four human-centered design principles:
- Understand the core problem
- Focus on the humans
- Everything is a system
- Iterate, prototype and test – fast
1. Understand the core problem
It’s easy to spot a problem, but when companies start considering where it stems from and what other areas of the business are impacted, they start to solve the fundamental, underlying issues, not just the symptoms. Researcher, professor and author Don Norman talks about fundamental problems and symptoms of problems, and you can read his take on the four human-centered design principles.
Back in March 2020, when countries began to lockdown, many companies were presented with the problem: can our employees work from home? A quick fix may have been to adopt some kind of video conferencing software, or to ensure that all employees had a work laptop.
While these solutions would have certainly fixed the immediate issue, a human-centered design approach may have addressed the problem like this: do our processes allow for business continuity? A more thorough investigation down this path, would’ve revealed that a new laptop wasn’t the quick solve that was needed. Support and guidance on how to manage one’s timetables, working positions and conditions, etc could have been addressed right away, not just when problems arose later down the line. And how about the customer experience?
2. Focus on the humans
The pandemic has demanded that businesses show their human sides to employees, customers, but other stakeholders also. But in order to show their own humanness, and to truly embrace human-centered design, companies must understand the needs of all the humans who are involved, while taking account of the history, culture, beliefs, and environment of the community.
Companies need to show that they genuinely understand and care about the people that are behind them. This is an idea that we heard time and time again, from companies at WebSummit last year.
While considering your stakeholders needs is crucial, so is bringing them along on the journey. Whether developing a product, finding a solution to a problem, or rolling out a new process, involving the people who are going to be impacted is a sure fire way to get their buy-in. Particularly at a time where companies are having to pivot quickly, following this human-centered design principle enables them to believe in what you are trying to achieve.
3. Everything is a system
Far too often, technology is introduced to solve a particular issue, without considering the implications on other interconnected factors within a system. Rather than focusing on isolated components, companies should consider the entire activity that is impacted.
For example, eagerness to install a chatbot programme to support customer service, may reduce the time a customer has to wait before they receive a response, but it may also increase the number of misdirected customer queries, leading to increased dissatisfaction. It doesn’t matter how good the customer service managers are, being sent off in the wrong direction will almost certainly result in a poor experience.
By considering the whole system, you can design holistically while considering what really matters to the people involved.
4. Iterate, prototype and test – fast
Implementation of changes requires patience to try, rethink and repeat until you find the right combination for what you want to achieve.
We often hear that agility is the key for business growth and innovation, and being flexible is important now, more than ever. The companies that are able to try something new, then go back to the drawing board and repeat, are the ones that have proven their ability to adapt to the instability that Covid-19 has presented.
Two notable examples are Zoom, which has managed to scale up and roll out new features at a phenomenal rate, and AirBnB, which has managed to pivot it’s entire approach to the vacation market, from holidays abroad to home stays.
And of course, those who consult with their stakeholders throughout the process, will find that people are forgiving when something doesn’t work if they can play a part in making it better.
See the problem, and see it well
Philosopher Karl Popper said ‘all life is problem solving’. He was very much on point with the attitude with which we can move forward in tough times. Right now, it may feel like companies are trying to build on shifting sands but taking a human-centered design approach helps to shift the perspective from what is right for the company to what is right for the humans who surround it.
Or as a Hunome member recently put it: ‘See the problem, see it well, from the direction of what matters in the world.’
To see how Hunome can help you apply human-centered (human-aware) design to your business, sign up for Hunome.