Human-centered design has taken center stage. It is the theme for this year’s Washington State Nonprofit Conference. It comes up regularly now in conversation about human service program design and how to engage previously not reached populations in our programs. It has jumped from designing products to delivering programs. A movement is underfoot, and I am just catching up.
What is human-centered design? What have I been missing?
“Human-centered design … starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.”
It sounds like good teaching.
Human-centered design sounds like what teachers have known for a long time—that educating students is most effective when the content is delivered in a shape and form that most resonates with the learner. Kids who feel ownership of the process are more likely to invest in their own success. People working in international development have experienced that the only way to solve hard social problems is for the people living within the problem to be a fundamental driver in moving forward a solution. We can take lessons from education and global poverty alleviation to better understand human-centered design.
Teams help us to get there.
A human-centered design expert explained that the secret sauce is the team of people at the table. That team blends a mix of talent that cuts across all of the elements of the work: content experts, social workers, data managers, educators, etc. We experienced the power of such a team in creating two tools for nonprofit board learning (Finance Unlocked and Boards in Gear). In both, a content expert, communication expert, and adult educator developed resources that reflect must-know content paired equally with effective language and delivery. Our understanding of local culture, social realities, predominant emotions and other “human-centered” topics provided the foundation to our solution.
Empathy makes human-centered design inevitable.
Lastly, I am struck by the reference to “deep empathy.” “Deep empathy” lies at the heart of why we press for global education in which our children build a deep and personal connection to communities living lives very different from ours. It is what challenges us in building authentic relationships with neighbors down the street. “Deep empathy” has the potential to drive powerful change as we shape solutions that place at the center the people we have accompanied, admired, become challenged by, and otherwise created a personal connection with. If we can invest in ways to drill down into the kind of empathy that stewards compassionate, respectful, and inclusive action, society will be better for it.