Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It's best done in a team as it actively promotes sharing knowledge and ideas, speaking to real people and reams of post-its!
In January, Kat and I worked with colleagues from the Transformation team in Cambridge on a eight-week course run by +Acumen and IDEO.org in order to learn more about it. We applied each week's teachings to a real-life design problem and worked through the process of inspiration, ideation and finally implementation.
One of the pre-defined case studies was how best to support the needs of young social entrepreneurs. As this was an area in which we already had experience, and the most access to people, we chose to solve this problem!
We spoke with local organisations such as The Rising Network, Neotists as well as people involved in the Policy Challenges collaboration. Kat and I spent the day with some amazing students from the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy in Leicester College.
Embrace ambiguity. We may not know what the answer is, but we know that we have to give ourselves permission to explore.
Patrice Martin, Co-Lead and Creative Director, IDEO.org
We learned that young people were hugely influenced by the support of their peers, that they needed to have confidence in their own abilities, they needed somewhere to ask questions and also have a sense of connection.
At the end of the course we delivered a prototype of a Tinder style app which would link up young social entrepreneurs and provide them with a safe space to get peer to peer advice and inspiration to bring their social enterprise idea to life.
I personally found the course amazingly inspirational and have already used some of the techniques, so how did everyone else find it?
Thoughts from the team
Gwendolyn Casazza (Transformation team, Cambridge)
While a lot of my work has been in setting where collaboration and group thinking were central, a lot of the more creative aspects of my work came through work that I accomplished independently.
This course has provided me with new and very intuitive ways to be and think creatively with others. There have been very joyful moments where our group thinking has been greater the sum of their parts. A lot of my current work is focusing on promoting, shaping and supporting organisational transformation and I would very much like to see how we can bring some fun and creativity using some of the tools, techniques and principles from this course.
Kat Sexton (LGSS Digital)
What I love about design thinking is that it allows us to be endlessly curious, like when we were children. It’s okay to not know everything already – in fact, the least you know and assume about anything at the start, all the better.
The human-centred design online course was so powerful in the way it allowed us as a group of energetic and motivated individuals to come together and challenge ourselves to think differently, to try out new skills and for it to be okay that we did not know where we would end up. The work we did was exciting and the research feedback session was one of the most powerful I have experienced yet. It was amazing how we could see trends and similarities in stories told from completely different people and groups, and how we could use this to create something that could help.
Emma Cooper (Transformation team, Cambridge)
If you're not surprised [by user research], then I'd hazard a guess that you're doing it wrong.
One of the things that surprised me most is how frequently we make assumptions in our daily lives and daily work without testing them with the people they affect.
In the first lesson of the course, Emi Kolawole told us that "if you're not surprised [by user research], then I'd hazard a guess that you're doing it wrong". This is something that has really stuck with me and I want to continue to use research to challenge my own assumptions now we have finished the course.
I was also incredibly surprised by how much we managed to achieve in a short space of time. It can be easy to think that user research and prototyping can be time-consuming, and therefore not worth doing, but my experience of how much we covered during the course has shown me that this is not the case. Plus, designing a product with users and testing it at every step of the way saves so much time in the long-run as you are far more likely to come up with something that actually meets people's needs!
As human-centered designers, we tinker and test, we iterate and we spend a lot of time not actually knowing the answer to the design problem - and that's ok.
It's through research and talking to real people that we find the pain. We understand, empathise and learn in order to design a solution that puts the user's needs at the heart of the process.