Human Centered Design

If you’ve ever been on a product team, you’ve probably experienced the all-too-common tug-o-war between various stakeholders who know very different sides of the company and share very different definitions of “success.” Without agreed upon channels for setting priorities, these combative forces breed an erratic atmosphere that often results in disregarded roadmaps, unfinished work, and sunk costs.

Unfortunately, in the startup world this is the status quo–not the exception. As a member of the product team, there are few things more frustrating than watching months worth of late nights and hard work become the collateral damage of stakeholders’ personal biases and political battles.

So what can companies do to avoid this fate?

Enter human centered design (HCD) and agile product development, two core methodologies that every product team should be familiar with.

In this post, we’ll explore how HCD can help your company identify the best solutions to your customers’ problems.

Human centered design is the practice of:

  1. identifying the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. drafting one or more hypotheses for solving that problem
  3. distinguishing assumptions inherent in each hypothesis and
  4. using qualitative and quantitative measures to validate those assumptions

The end goal is to design at the intersection of what’s viable (does your solution fit into your business model), what’s feasible (can you actually execute it), and what’s desirable (does your customer want it).

This may sound like a lot of time, effort, and money without a guaranteed payoff. In practice, however, there are ways to apply HCD in a reasonable, cost-effective manner that can help steer the proverbial ship in the right direction. An entire usability study, for example, could be accomplished on a low budget within a day by recruiting 4 – 5 participants and paying them a nominal fee for an hour of their time. This could uncover insights that, in the long run, save the company thousands of dollars in unnecessary (and misdirected) product development costs. It does this, in part, by removing personal bias from the equation. If a stakeholder says, “but I think…”, the response is, “but our data shows,” thus directing that proverbial ship on a stable course.

Importantly, HCD is an iterative process of hypothesizing, designing, testing, and re-testing. To do it well, you don’t need to do it all at once or disrupt your existing product cycle. For this reason, it works very well alongside our second methodology: agile product development.

In our next post, we’ll explore how agile development works hand-in-hand with HCD.

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