Not so long ago I worked with a company that wanted to design a new servicing model for their clients. During the session one of the managers got quite upset and wondered why no one in his team ever spoke to the customers or went to listen in at the helpdesk. He said he liked the ideas that came out of the workshop, but did not see relevance for their customer base. When I asked how often this manager asked his team to talk to customers and how much time he permitted them to spend on that he fell silent. Then he admitted that he had never done so.
"Human-centered thinking, it sounds so logical, yet it’s rarely done"
It sounds so logical to design, work, produce, develop etc. based on customer insights. And many companies even say they always listen to their customer. However, unfortunately it is a case of common sense, not common practice. Very few companies really work using human-centered design. Companies assume they do, but do not entirely grasp the idea of starting any action based on user insights. The other day I spoke to a marketing manager. She explained that everything she did was human-centered. She would develop a marketing campaign and then ask a focus group what they thought of that campaign. However, human-centered design works the other way around. First you observe humans and look at their behaviors. Based on the findings a product, service or campaign is developed.
"The biggest problem with using an approach that is not human-centered is that you might spend a lot of money on the wrong problem or solution."
The biggest problem with using an approach that is not human-centered is that you might spend a lot of money on the wrong problem or solution. One of the famous examples of this is Coca-Cola. Years ago they decided that it was time for a change in their classic Coca-Cola recipe because market share was declining. Coca-Cola developed a new recipe and called it New Coke. When they launched the new product after doing a taste testing with 200,000 testers, they were sure that the product would be a big success. Most people absolutely preferred the (sweeter) New Coke version of Coca-Cola. The launch was an absolute disaster and after some months Coca-Cola reversed the change and went back to the old recipe. What went wrong? Coca-Cola had not observed how people consume Coca-Cola. They just asked people which taste they liked better in a taste test. However, in a taste test people drink only a little bit of the drink. At home they drink an entire can (or bottle) In small amounts the sweeter taste was great, but when drinking an entire can the sweetness was too much. Something they might have observed when looking at their target audience more in-depth. The solution Coca-Cola developed did not solve their problem.
Another example is Segway. Investors expected Segway sales to go through the roof. 10,000 units per week was the forecast. However, less than 10,000 units were sold in the first two years. It resulted that there was no real need for a product like Segway. People got around on foot, by bike or by car (or public transport) If Segway would have started off investigating the needs of their target audience, they might have found out that the problem that they tried to solve did not exist or that they needed to look for another target audience.
"You should always be asking what people need and how your company can help to fulfill those needs."
Human-centered design means that every step in the design or problem solving process is based on the needs and wants of the users. Through observation and, if necessary, talking to users it is found out what these needs and wants are. After the observation phase solutions for the problem or challenge are developed based on the insights that were obtained. Those solutions are then prototyped and tested in the target audience.
Not focusing on human-centered design can be detrimental for your company. You should always be asking what people need and how your company can help to fulfill those needs. In that way people will have a reason to do business with you and business gains credibility. As many company do not work human-centered, it might even be quite easy to gain a competitive advantage when you do.