What is human centred design and why is it important?


Behind all the innovation labs that are popping up, you will usually find a human centred design method. What does this actually look like, though?

In my last blog – Why leadership development needs to be agileI explained how rapid prototyping and exploratory evaluation can develop fit-for-purpose leadership designs that are ready to go when you need them. However, there are more techniques available to businesses that need to create high-impact development quickly.

The human centred design movement is big and keeps getting bigger as businesses experience benefits such as speed, creativity and financial returns. Innovation is, by its very nature, a risky endeavour. Mitigating innovation risk – and increasingly the probability of success – is where HCD techniques really help.

The application of human centred design is not limited to consumer product and service design. Here are three human centred design techniques you can apply to leadership and learning solutions:

Customer profiling

Leadership development initiatives typically have more than one ‘customer’. First there are the end users. These are the leaders that participate in the initiative and act as consumers of the learning experience.

Then there is the business. This is the customer investing in the initiative to achieve certain performance outcomes. We have found enormous value in asking two questions: “What development will leaders find most impactful and relevant?” and “What is the most important change or benefit the business needs from this investment?”

The answers to these questions usually differ. Resolving the difference is one of the most valuable exercises in the initial stages of the design process. For example, the development experience leaders want and expect is often influenced by:

  • their past experience of development;
  • their feelings about this development experience; and
  • their personal aspirations, which often extend beyond their current role with the organisation.

In contrast, business needs are very different. Developing a solution that engages leaders around their own priorities – and extends their learning, focus and practice to meet business needs – is the art of great leadership development design.

Learning journey mapping

Drawing on customer journey mapping, backwards design and theory of change techniques, we help clients visually depict and communicate learning and development journeys. These maps are useful for understanding how learning channels or touch points, as they are sometimes called, will come together to create a cohesive learning experience.

For example, we are developing a blended learning journey for a group of emerging leaders that includes online, applied-at-work and face-to-face elements over the course of six months. Developing a map of the learning journey helped them understand and critique our initial design. It also surfaced issues with touch points, automation elements, pacing and continuity that we could address before the end users experienced the learning product.

Test and learn iterations

This is a method for testing your idea, design or intervention with your target audience as early as possible. We use test and learn as a basis for collaborative co-design with clients. It allows us to be more playful and adventurous all within a space that’s challenging, but not too risky. We can do this because we ‘fail fast’: our participants tell us clearly and early when we have hit the mark or missed it.

For example, we recently developed a case board (essentially a case study on a poster) for a client to help their leaders see the connection between their business challenge and collaborative leadership. The case board included data, business insights and graphics. But we had some questions about how it would actually work:

  • Were the business insights big enough to challenge leaders’ thinking?
  • Was the amount of information appropriate to stimulate a short, stand-up conversation?
  • Did the questions we posed provoke the right level of discussion?

In testing not just the material but the experience with a relevant group, we learned that our material was spot on, but we had to ask different questions to create the right discussion. We changed the questions and now this session is fool-proof. It generates engaged, thoughtful discussion that drives learning every time we run it.

As a human resources professional, human centred design techniques help you emphasise the importance of really understanding your stakeholders, their perspectives and the job they need to get done before moving into solution mode. The emphasis on design highlights the importance of thinking about solutions from the get-go to build something that is really customised and does what you need it to do.

This philosophy of thinking deeply about business performance issues and customer needs will allow you to build fit-for-purpose solutions for your business – and enjoy the fun of unleashing your inner designer!

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More on HRM

What is human centred design and why is it important?


Behind all the innovation labs that are popping up, you will usually find a human centred design method. What does this actually look like, though?

In my last blog – Why leadership development needs to be agileI explained how rapid prototyping and exploratory evaluation can develop fit-for-purpose leadership designs that are ready to go when you need them. However, there are more techniques available to businesses that need to create high-impact development quickly.

The human centred design movement is big and keeps getting bigger as businesses experience benefits such as speed, creativity and financial returns. Innovation is, by its very nature, a risky endeavour. Mitigating innovation risk – and increasingly the probability of success – is where HCD techniques really help.

The application of human centred design is not limited to consumer product and service design. Here are three human centred design techniques you can apply to leadership and learning solutions:

Customer profiling

Leadership development initiatives typically have more than one ‘customer’. First there are the end users. These are the leaders that participate in the initiative and act as consumers of the learning experience.

Then there is the business. This is the customer investing in the initiative to achieve certain performance outcomes. We have found enormous value in asking two questions: “What development will leaders find most impactful and relevant?” and “What is the most important change or benefit the business needs from this investment?”

The answers to these questions usually differ. Resolving the difference is one of the most valuable exercises in the initial stages of the design process. For example, the development experience leaders want and expect is often influenced by:

  • their past experience of development;
  • their feelings about this development experience; and
  • their personal aspirations, which often extend beyond their current role with the organisation.

In contrast, business needs are very different. Developing a solution that engages leaders around their own priorities – and extends their learning, focus and practice to meet business needs – is the art of great leadership development design.

Learning journey mapping

Drawing on customer journey mapping, backwards design and theory of change techniques, we help clients visually depict and communicate learning and development journeys. These maps are useful for understanding how learning channels or touch points, as they are sometimes called, will come together to create a cohesive learning experience.

For example, we are developing a blended learning journey for a group of emerging leaders that includes online, applied-at-work and face-to-face elements over the course of six months. Developing a map of the learning journey helped them understand and critique our initial design. It also surfaced issues with touch points, automation elements, pacing and continuity that we could address before the end users experienced the learning product.

Test and learn iterations

This is a method for testing your idea, design or intervention with your target audience as early as possible. We use test and learn as a basis for collaborative co-design with clients. It allows us to be more playful and adventurous all within a space that’s challenging, but not too risky. We can do this because we ‘fail fast’: our participants tell us clearly and early when we have hit the mark or missed it.

For example, we recently developed a case board (essentially a case study on a poster) for a client to help their leaders see the connection between their business challenge and collaborative leadership. The case board included data, business insights and graphics. But we had some questions about how it would actually work:

  • Were the business insights big enough to challenge leaders’ thinking?
  • Was the amount of information appropriate to stimulate a short, stand-up conversation?
  • Did the questions we posed provoke the right level of discussion?

In testing not just the material but the experience with a relevant group, we learned that our material was spot on, but we had to ask different questions to create the right discussion. We changed the questions and now this session is fool-proof. It generates engaged, thoughtful discussion that drives learning every time we run it.

As a human resources professional, human centred design techniques help you emphasise the importance of really understanding your stakeholders, their perspectives and the job they need to get done before moving into solution mode. The emphasis on design highlights the importance of thinking about solutions from the get-go to build something that is really customised and does what you need it to do.

This philosophy of thinking deeply about business performance issues and customer needs will allow you to build fit-for-purpose solutions for your business – and enjoy the fun of unleashing your inner designer!

Leave a reply

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Notify me of
More on HRM