Using Human-Centered Design to Build Better Products (With Examples)

To understand human-centered design, let’s start with what it isn’t.

woman learning human centered design

Imagine you work at a gaming design company, and one day your boss comes up to you and says, “Teenagers these days — they need to get off their phones. Let’s do a crossword-puzzle for teens.” Design a board game — they’ll welcome the opportunity to be offline.”

Your boss’s intentions are good, but his intentions don’t match the reality of your customer. His view is not sympathetic to the passions of teenagers, and it is not a solution that suits their wants and needs.

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Now, let’s look at a real example of human-centered design: a meal subscription box.

Take hellofreshFounded in 2011 by Dominik Richter, Thomas Griegel and Jessica Nilsson. The company delivers a box of fresh food to your doorstep with easy recipes. The founders recognized that people have trouble finding time to shop for groceries and struggle to make healthy, affordable meals — they came up with a solution to both problems.

Unlike your boss in the first example, the HelloFresh founders did not develop an idea related to a real consumer need. Instead, he recognized the struggle one was facing and then worked to invent a solution. As such, it is arguable that human-centred design is a safer and more reliable approach to problem-solving.

whether your role requires you to pitch ideas Marketing Whether meeting or designing the products your company sells, it’s important that you learn the process of human-centered design. By putting your consumer at the forefront of your creative process, you ensure that each product you create and deliver is the right, long-term solution to your consumer’s needs. If done correctly, you will gain a more reliable and loyal customer base.

Now that we’ve covered the importance of human-centered design, let’s dive into the different phases of the human-centered design process and look at some examples so you feel confident implementing the strategy for yourself.

Human-Centered Design Process

IDEO – The Global Design Firm Behind Apple’s first computer mousePalm Pilot, 1998 and others — came up with three steps to the human-centered design process that have helped them create such successful and long-lasting products.

The three phases of the human-centred design process are inspiration, ideation and implementation.

Step One: Inspiration.

The inspiration phase requires actual ground research. You will need to engage directly with your target audience to understand their biggest problems and pain points. Researching your target audience is important. You want to find out: What makes your consumer happy? What frustrates them? What do they do first thing in the morning? How do they eat stuff? What takes up most of their time?

Essentially, you want to see from their point of view.

You can use a few different methods to research your audience. For example, you can send surveys to customers via email or create a survey submission form on one of your web pages. If you’re having a hard time getting people to fill out surveys, you can offer an incentive – 10% off their next purchase or a ticket to a raffle contest with a giveaway.

If you don’t feel comfortable with surveys, you can facilitate a focus group.

If you frequently interact with consumers over the phone or email, you may hear about the problems they are systematically having.

If you’re still not sure which direction to take, check out 19 Tools and Resources for Doing Market Research for more ideas.

Once you’ve done your market research, list with your team all the trivial and major problems your consumer struggles with (within your skill set or products, of course). Consider the biggest pain points your consumer is facing and how your products can be better suited to address those issues.

Step two: idea.

Like the founders of HelloFresh, your team must envision a future that doesn’t exist yet. Now that you know what problems your customers face, what solutions can help them become better, happier, and more productive?

The brainstorming phase is your “not a bad idea” brainstorming session. This requires you and your colleagues to make and refine a long list. Take good ideas, and make them better. Refine and tweak them. Imagine that you can solve a customer’s problem big and small in a variety of ways.

Once you’re confident that you have a realistic, human-centered idea to solve a customer need, you’ll need to envision how a product can solve that solution.

Let’s use our HelloFresh example to see this step more clearly. In step two, the idea, you’ve already identified that people don’t have time to grocery shop and want healthy food (that was step one). In this step, you’ve come up with a long list of possible solutions, such as, “YouTube tutorials on how to cook healthy meals? Write a Cookbook? Pay someone to come over to your house and cook for you? Pay a trucker to deliver healthy food to your door?

Finally, your team has made a decision — Whoa! We will create a one mile subscription service.

Now, you want to prototype and test this product on your ideal personality.

Remember, the whole premise behind human-centered design is to uncover the real needs of your customers and provide solutions to those needs. If you get feedback on the limitations of your product, don’t get discouraged — get inspired. This feedback is exactly what you need to ensure that your product will gain long-term traction with your target consumer base.

Step Three: Implementation.

So you’ve built and tested a prototype of your product, gathered feedback, and appear to be ready for release to a wider audience.

Now, it’s time to market your product. Ultimately, you’ll want to imagine yourself in your consumer’s shoes and then market to them from that perspective: How would I like to learn about this product if I were in their place?

Since your product revolves around your consumer’s struggles, you’ll want to develop an effective marketing strategy to promote your product as a long-term solution to real struggles.

You might also consider partnering with other businesses that provide similar solutions or share an audience with similar problems. By partnering with a business, you are able to provide a more all-in-one solution to the user.

human-centered design example

1. Colgate Toothbrush

Colgate-Palmolive’s toothbrush, the Acti-Brush, was innovative in the 1990s, but competing toothbrushes have since overtaken Colgate in the market. Colgate-Palmolive hired Altitude, a design consulting firm focused on human-centered designs, to create a new toothbrush mod.Ale,

The Altitude team researched the audience extensively and then developed Motion, a new, slim, high-powered toothbrush with an oscillating head and a raised neck. The entire product, from surface features to performance, is centered around one important question: Will it meet our user’s needs? Eventually, the Motion successfully solved a user problem—the need for a thinner toothbrush that could still deliver on performance—that the industry had not previously addressed.

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2. Spotify

Remember the days of paying $1.99 One lyrics, or wandering the aisles of Walmart, looking for your favorite album?

I would argue that one of the most impressive demonstrations of human-centered design is Spotify — a product that showed me my prior method for buying music, before I even recognized it as one, was a problem.

Spotify succeeded because it empathized with the struggle of its users to pay for music from different sources and created a solution we can all embrace. Thanks to Spotify, users can get all their music in one place for one monthly fee. I’d be willing to pay more for that kind of tailored, customized, helpful service.

Human-Centered Design Example Spotify

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3. Fitbit

Before handy fitness trackers, we had to estimate how many calories we burned in a day and figure out our inherent motivation to be more active (which, as we all know, is an inexhaustible source).

The invention of products like the Fitbit is undeniably human-centered. The inventors of fitness trackers recognized the challenges people face with tracking and maintaining fitness goals and provided a useful long-term solution. The product works by telling the user how many calories he has burned and urging him to exercise more.

Human-Centered Design Example FitBit

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4. Venmo

Venmo is another example of a product that solved a problem before most people knew it had one. I personally didn’t see how cumbersome it was to exchange money until Venmo provided a solution.

Venmo’s founders, Andrew Cortina and Ikram Magdon-Ismail, stumbled upon the idea for Venmo only when they encountered a problem. They go to New York City and Ikram forgets his wallet. Andrew paid for everything, and Ikram wrote him a check at the end of the trip.

During that exchange of money, he thought, “Why is this still the best way to exchange money? Why can’t we do this on our phones?”

The founders of Venmo needed to solve a problem they faced and create a solution that others could benefit from as well.

Human-Centered Design Example Venmo

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Feeling inspired?

Hopefully, these examples confirm the usefulness of human-centered design for creating long-lasting and innovative products. Now you’re ready to tackle your creative process from a whole new angle – the human angle.

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