Human-Centred Design

Human-centered Design

Human-centered design is well suited to address complex collaboration endeavours. At its core, human-centred design is a learning strategy, one that allows practitioners to engage with complex challenges through an interactive approach of exploration and experimentation and to do so in ways that develops human focused solutions.

Exploration activities allow practitioners to investigate unfamiliar issues by interacting with and observing users, understanding context and looking at what others are doing. Experimentation supports structured activities to try out new ideas, methods and approaches in order to test possible solutions. Designers engage in exploration and experimentation in iterative and cyclical ways.

Given that in complex settings it is impossible to understand all variables, actors, interactions and dependencies in advance of acting, human-centred design allows collaborators to gain a basic understanding of the present state in order to identify ideas that can be tested, refined and launched. Effective design efforts involve collaboration. There are powerful advantages in bringing together many eyes, different resources and capabilities to create effective solutions.

Design is used to create visual representations, products, services and whole environments, systems and organizations. The term human-centred design is used to highlight that the effectiveness of this approach is based on a number of core principles:

  • designers focus on users; they learn from users to better understand their needs and aspirations, ensure that the created solutions address users’ needs and actively involve users in the experimentation processes.
  • design is holistic; designs blend desirability (solutions that solve user’s problems), feasibility (solutions that are technically possible) and viability (solutions that are offered in a sustainable manner).
  • design is action oriented; designers move quickly to trial ideas through prototyping and piloting in an iterative and cyclical manager (test, learn, refine, repeat).
  • design is collaborative; better solutions emerge from working together.
  • design is optimistic; designers are optimistic there is an approach that will meet competing criteria and actively look to create novel solutions to challenging issues.
  • As well, human-centred design works when practitioners adopt a design attitude. A design attitude is not only the purview of designers. Practitioners from many fields can actively and effectively participate in design initiatives. Adopting a design attitude involves spending time representing and formulating the problems to be solved. How one defines a problem plays an important role in how a problem is inevitably addressed.
  • Designers often work through different problem variations to test different solutions and approaches. This also helps to refine the understanding of the problem.
  • Designers understand the nature of and are able to work in complex systems; they are able to navigate the many constituent parts, interconnected actors and information flows while building potential landscapes for solutions to emerge.
  • Designers are action oriented; their goal is to work to bring things to life. They are able to embrace discontinuities and openness. Their work is often visual as images, photographs and representations provide useful means to communicate complex ideas.
  • Effective designers recognize the power of empathy and being focused on creating optimal user solutions and experiences.
  • Finally, designers embrace the spirit of the challenge; designers thrive in the process of creating better worlds.

One method that is particularly helpful for complex collaborations is the double-diamond approach of diverging and converging. This approach widens the solution space and helps collaborating organizations to find a strategy that provides the necessary mutual gain across all the parties with needed outcomes. It can also be a helpful aid to a group decision-making process.  (See the description of  dynamic process design for insight on group decision-making compared to negotiating among a set of individual decisions).