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Harnessing user-centered design to fuel innovation

Blog

User-centered design can help you tackle issues of culture, build a better understanding of your customers, and overcome biases. Whether you call it user-centered design, design thinking, or user experience, you can use it to break down internal silos, improve your products, and outperform your competitors.

Problem: Innovation Is Not Part of Your Culture

Solution: If you want to use a design-forward approach to drive innovation, take a look under the hood and find out what you’re actually dealing with culture-wise.

Here are four key traits to look for and foster within your team’s culture to give your new initiatives their best chance of success:

  1. User focus (aka design thinking)
  2. Accountability and efficiency
  3. Openness to feedback
  4. Humble confidence

Foster these traits within your team’s culture to give your new initiatives their best chance of success. With these traits embedded in your culture, you can build truly transformational products.

Problem: You Think You Know (But Don’t Truly Understand) What Your Users Need

Solution: Involve users in the design process to find out what they really want and need from your product or service.

Someone (or many people) in your company probably thinks they know what your users want. You may even have marketing personas, i.e. fictional yet realistic descriptions of your target customers. But the big difference between using marketing personas and performing user research is intent.

If you’re focused on the persona of the person who purchases your product, rather than how a user interacts with it, you might be missing the point. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important for you to understand your purchasers’ behaviors and perception of your brand and product. But if you want to innovate your products and services, you need to focus on the people who will use them.

Then, you have to go a step further and understand the context in which they’ll be interacting with your product or service, and what their needs and expectations are. Better yet, you should observe the pain points your users experience interacting with their current solution (or a prototype of your proposed solution), so you’re not making decisions based on guesswork or assumptions, but actually solving users’ problems.

Anyone who has been expected to use a new software system that actually makes their work more difficult can relate to this. Rather than truly understanding the end users’ goals, the IT purchaser focused on what they thought the user needed. The same thing can happen if your product or development team doesn’t involve users early and often throughout the design process.

User research can help you innovate by matching the needs and problems of your users to the solution your business wants to build. User research can avoid the expensive mistake of building a product that makes sense to your product team but not to your users.

Problem: Your Project Leaders Have Blinders On

Solution: Seek out an external perspective to break you out of your rut.

Figuring out what problems are worth solving and crafting a vision that your team can bring to fruition is hard, even without the bias of the enterprise holding you back. Our clients don’t need us for knowledge of their industry; they have loads of that internally. They need us for user-centered design expertise and for our external perspective. Because the same institutional knowledge that makes employees so valuable to a company makes it difficult for them to innovate.

In any consulting engagement, some of the value the external partner brings can be attributed to the simple freedom of being an outsider. As one client called it, we bring the “naive expert point of view” to the team. Together with years of experience applying user-centered design to software applications, our freedom from internal bias or hang-ups about existing systems and processes gives innovation a fighting chance.