CX 101: Applying human-centered design to business problems

CX 101: Applying human-centered design to business problems

CX 101: Applying human-centered design to business problems 1400 600 Lis Hubert

Now that we’ve discussed what human-centered design (HCD) is, let’s talk about practicalities. How can we use HCD to solve business problems? What role does it play in organizational success?
Although companies use various tools and systems, ultimately everything in business is done by humans for humans. By keeping customer and human goals in the center of all decisions, human-centered design helps us ensure that these tools and systems can be used effectively. Even areas that are not traditionally associated with HCD can benefit from its principles. To see why, let’s examine the role of business processes and systems.

Business systems and processes through an HCD lens

In simple terms, a business system is one core part of a business. Business processes are the individual parts of a business system. 

To understand this in the context of human-centered design, let’s use the example of mail delivery.  

Moving a letter from sender to recipient – i.e. mail delivery – is the system. The steps involved in getting the letter from its source to its destination are the processes. 

For a person sending a letter from Pittsburgh to Seattle, these processes look something like this:

  1. A person puts a letter in a mailbox in a Pittsburgh neighborhood.
  2. The letter is picked up by the neighborhood carrier and delivered to the neighborhood post office.
  3. At the local post office, the letter is forwarded to the city’s main post office.
  4. At the main post office, the letter is sent to a regional office.
  5. The letter hops from regional office to regional office until it reaches the regional office nearest Seattle. Then the journey is performed in reverse: the letter moves to Seattle’s main post office, to the local post office, and finally to the recipient.

Nowadays, much of the sorting and processing is done by machine. But if we look closely, there are humans involved in each part of the process – from the neighborhood letter carrier to the people who programmed the sorting machines. And let’s not forget the sender! 

In viewing this system through an HCD lens, we do more than just map out the steps. We also ask: 

  • How do the humans involved in each step do their work?
  • Why are they doing it this way? 
  • What tools do they have? 
  • What other processes does this one influence? 

We can dig even deeper: 

  • How do these humans feel about that process and their role in it? 
  • How does it align with their perception of their role in the company? 
  • What physical and cultural factors might come into play to shape their experience?

In understanding the  answers to these questions, we’re doing more than focusing on the processes and how to speed them up. We’re considering the capabilities, working conditions, and needs of the humans involved, both customers and employees. At the end of the day, if we take away all the barriers of technology, businesses are humans supporting (or buying from) other humans.

In short, we can apply a human-centric approach to any business problem. But it does require a bit more time and effort than simply making unilateral process and system changes. So why bother?

The business benefits of human-centered design

The benefits of HCD in customer-facing areas are self-evident: It helps you create products and services that are more in tune with your customers’ needs and goals. 

But what about other areas? How can we apply HCD to accounting or data processing? And what goals would that support?

Accountants or data analysts are not usually in direct contact with customers. They’re not manufacturing products or moving goods around. However, they do move information around; your company’s financial viability and business plans depend on accurate input from these departments. 

If we can make their work faster and easier, we can shorten the time it takes for decisions to be made. If we improve the tools they use, we can improve the quality of the information they deliver – as well as the speed with which they deliver it.

And so we examine the tools, processes, and systems non-client-facing teams use. We may find that they’re spending a lot of time preparing data for analysis rather than doing the actual analysis. Or perhaps they’re using a data visualization tool that’s slow and doesn’t offer all the features they need; to compensate, they have to use time-consuming workarounds. Maybe there’s a delay in accountants getting budget reports from other departments, which causes unnecessary delays in other business areas. Any of these common problems are gaps that HCD-focused teams can find and close – resulting in a faster, more efficient process and in employees that are less frustrated with their work.   

Up next: CX research methods

In summary, using a human-centered design approach allows you to:

  • Create more effective solutions to customer and employee problems.
  • Understand peoples’ needs, thus fostering a more inclusive atmosphere.
  • Communicate clearly and efficiently with employees, business partners, customers, and others.
  • Enhance employee and customer satisfaction.

All of these add up to more effectiveness and flexibility in your business – and ultimately, in better performance and increased revenue.

Now that we’ve delved into the business benefits of human-centered design, let’s move back to the CX process. What types of research do customer experience teams carry out? And how do they check the accuracy of their results? We’ll answer these questions in the next article.

About the author

Lis Hubert

Lis is an acclaimed design and strategy thought leader, writer, and speaker with extensive expertise in Digital Strategy, Customer Experience, Information Architecture, and Design Thinking.

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