Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. - Bertrand Russell, Philosopher
Product teams are problem solvers. But oftentimes we get so caught up in the solving that we forget to really understand the problem. Moreover, we forget the humanity.
This is the essence of Human-centered design, an approach to product design and development that focuses on understanding the perspective of the human who is going to use the software.
Understanding and leveraging human-centered design can lead you to creating more compelling products and edging out your competition.
Below I explore human-centered design and other vital principles of building products people love.
1 - Focus on People
Every project should start with people.
Gather the key stakeholders closest to the problem you’re trying to solve for. From marketers to customer service to customers themselves, vigilantly interview the real people whose perspective can inform the solution you need to develop.
The more "human" your research is, the more likely your solution will solve real problems.
This principle doesn't only apply to new product development but also to digital transformation projects, where a bit of "human touch" can lead to powerful outcomes like improved retention and user experience, new revenue sources and operational efficiency.
2 - Empathy Leads to Discovery
You wouldn’t serve a steak dinner to guests that are vegetarian, right? You’d ask your dinner guests if they have any dietary restrictions and then make something they’d enjoy.
The same sort of deep dive into the mindset of the people you’re building product for is necessary. When you know your user’s habits and needs as they understand them to be, you can better define their problem.
3 - Solve the Right Problem
Custom software development is about solving a specific problem for a specific group of people for a real purpose, not about writing code.
To escape what Melissa Perri calls the "build trap" we need to train ourselves to staying longer with the problem rather than just leaping to the solution.
Remember: just because we can build something doesn't mean we should.
Human centered design emphasizes first-hand investigation not only to learn whether the problem exists, but whether or not the user even wants a solution.
4 - Everything is a System
Optimize, streamline and create systems. Human-centered design means moving from observing events, data, and behaviour to identifying patterns overtime, and surfacing the underlying structures that drive those patterns.
Everyone from large-scale organizations to small cross-functional teams can benefit from creating simple systems that save time and money.
5 - Validate Assumptions
The two most dangerous words when used together are "I know."
Instead, embrace what I like to call "a mindset of maybe." Agree that every corner of your product strategy - from what to build to who it's for to what color the buttons should be - are assumptions.
Some assumptions have already been proven in market. For example, Napster already proved that people would download music so iTunes only had to prove people would pay to download.
Understand which assumptions have been reasonably proven and which ones are highest risk (i.e. your whole plan blows up if you're wrong).
Then, test test test before you go too far / spend too much money.
Can you imagine building a solution for $500,000, launching it and never attracing a single customer? Or worse, doing the same and losing the customers you currently have?
A lot of project risk can be mitigated by experiments in the hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars.
6 - Integrate Feedback and Iterate
Conducting experiments is only as good as using the learnings to inform the next actions to be taken.
Rapid prototyping is an incredibly effective way to evolve design and product ideas quickly based on feedback from actual users. Think about how many batches of cupcakes you can make in the same amount of time it would take to create a fabulously horrible wedding cake?
The key to prototyping is being clear on what assumptions you're trying to prove.
7 - Roadmap
Hitting the open road with nowhere specific to go may be a fine way to spend a sunny Sunday, but it's a perilous approach to launching products.
Having a clear product vision and a roadmap for how you're going to realize that vision is essential.
Depending on the maturity of your product or organization, you may only roadmap 3 months in advance or several years.
8 - Remember the U in UXD
XD or Experience Design is a common way to describe the work of architecting systems and interfaces. But as I quoted Bertrand above, don't forget the humanity (i.e. the user).
If you're serious about delivering winning products then invest seriously in building cross-functional teams with a human-centered approach to design.