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Human-centred design is about understanding people not process

Written by Danny Tomalin
Published on
Our Head of Design, Danny Tomalin talks human-centred design for digital transformation and why empathy is the key ingredient.

Cycle of human-centred design

In my world and most other design environments, a cycle of human-centred design combines 4-5 essential phases, formulated to spit out a solution that addresses the user’s problem and crucially, achieves a business objective.

Razor is no different, we have a process - of sorts. We understand, we define, we shape then we test. Our difference is, we don’t just pay lip service to those important phases, they’re more than buzzwords on a whiteboard and they may pivot and shift depending on the project.

We design for people and with people, even when we’re making bots work. We ask the questions we need to - that nobody has asked before - to get to the heart of the problem and the real value waiting to be unlocked within any organisation.

The design manuals might preach pages of methodologies, but our team is much more concerned with empathy. Methodologies and workflows don’t often deal in nuanced human behaviours and viewpoints, which can be purely specific to that environment whether we’re dealing with a B2C, B2B or internal business environments.

The key to that empathy is understanding people.

A bit about me

I started my career as a filmmaker. I’m not talking about Hollywood blockbusters or even gritty British dramas; I made films for an audience of one for a company on a mission to help people tell their stories and affect positive change. I was thrown into lots of environments; rehabilitation centres, prisons, care homes, hospitals. But the objective was always the same, to help people share by asking questions and listening, really listening.

Fast forward a few years, and this talent for questioning, empathising, listening and understanding human perspectives was the start of my journey into design and UX. And I’ve translated this into my team. We distil the heart of that practice into all the design work we do.

Everything we do for our clients is designed to enhance people’s lives - all kinds of people - our design isn’t just human-centred, it’s empathic. We go one further, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s the right time to shift your thinking

Human-centred design has been a staple of design thinking and deployment in the industry for years now; you can find countless representations of what it looks like and possible phasing systems. But nothing should be this prescriptive, especially something which claims to have the human experience at its very core.

Over the past year, the world has completely changed, our expectations and our behaviours have shifted. We’ve felt loss and separation, the way we use technology has evolved.

In the background, data, AI, and automation are booming in our workplaces and where we go to consume products, entertainment and share communication. Some of this is related to our ‘new normal’, but some of it is a natural progression of emerging technology. We see lots of different companies at Razor from all kinds of sectors beginning to explore what this could mean for their employees, customers, and their broader industry. Digital transformation has become a heading on business strategies everywhere.

It’s no secret - and it should be obvious - that this new era will take a new approach, an approach beyond just using the word ‘human’. We need to mean it. We must immerse ourselves in people’s lives, and perspectives, their needs, motivations, and everyday challenges - the dials are shifting all the time.

How we start a design process - our difference

We see how we approach the design element of any live project as the key to driving positive change in any organisation or business for our client. We want to truly connect with the user at the centre of any move towards digital transformation whether that be for an application interface, an AI-powered chatbot or a data reporting platform.

It’s more than just what is needed from a business perspective. We get on the same level as the people within organisations and deploy the empathy that is so important to the launch and adoption process.

We ask better question after better question which gives our team a deep understanding of the users, customers, or employee needs, desires, and pain points - aligning offerings to precisely support the requirements making a difference; the real core of the value.

  • What impact will this project have on your business
  • How will this project bring value to your users?
  • Who uses your service & what are there pain points?
  • What does failure look like?
  • How do we measure the impact?
  • What are we trying to achieve?

We then look to design an experience rather than functionality, redefining the process to elevate the experience. Companies win or lose based on this. If the experience is bad, few people will get on board. We work as a collaborative force with our developers, testers, client and end-users to make sure this process is holistic as possible.

While the test and build process is where the heavy lifting happens, this initial stage where human-centred design is pushed to its very limit is where our edge is. And you will feel the difference in the finished product with an end-user who has their needs met, onboarded with empathy and understanding. Key stakeholders left happy with a client-centric process and a solution that is not just viable but desirable.

As Head of Design for such a forward-thinking organisation like Razor, I couldn’t be happier that so much of my role is about exploration, understanding and dissecting thought processes.

So, next time you’re in a strategy meeting and someone describes a ‘Human-Centred’ approach - ask yourself, is it really about the people, or is it just a process - are you just going through the motions with a pretty flowchart?