Power to the People - The importance of Human Centred Design in Digital Technology

Here’s some quick metrics about design you might not know of, taken from the ‘2016 Design in Tech’ report. 

  • 89% of companies believe that customer experience will be their primary basis for competition in 2016 versus 36% four years ago - Gartner 
  • 81% of executives place the personalized customer experience in their top three priorities for their organisation with 39% reporting it as their top priority - Accenture
  • 90% of executives surveyed agreed that customer experience and engagements are objectives of their corporations digital strategy - MIT Sloan/Deloitte
  • 6x more people are likely to buy with a positive emotional experience, 12x more likely to recommend the company and 5x more likely to forgive a mistake - Temkin Group

So why is design so important in this day and age? 

To clarify this statement further - the question needs to be adjusted, ‘Why is human-centred design so important in this day and age?’

It is no secret that as humans we often and shamelessly embrace our fickleness and aesthetic tastes. We like things that look good, whether that is clothing, shoes, partners, cars or our latest haircut. 

We can be fooled into thinking successful digital technology can be lumped into this list e.g. an elegant, clean, beautiful website or app. But whereas those other items are aesthetic for their own aesthetic good, human-centred design in digital tech serves a function far beyond it’s looks.

Take for example Airbnb, one of the world’s largest privately held startup’s worth an estimated 25 Billion USD.

  • When they first launched they had a decent logo, a decent looking website and what looked to them to be a great customer experience. The only problem was that hardly anyone was using it. The design wasn’t serving a purpose. It was only through talking with their customers, iterating and talking again that the founders actually started designing the site for the people using the service.
  • The ‘A-ha’ moment for them was when they focussed the customer experience on their host’s photos, and more importantly making sure each photo looked great. They came to realise that a great photo of a room was more likely to generate a booking compared to an amatuer photo. The founders even went to the extent of hiring a professional photographer to take high quality pictures of all the rooms and houses listed on their site to replace the current ones the hosts had taken.

 By designing for people, Airbnb started experiencing the user growth which put them on track to be the colossus they are today. And this Human-Centred design is a principle that all great digital products follow. It generally consists of two key points: 

  1. The digital product solves an immediate need or problem for the user
  2. The user experience feels custom made for them by effectively serving its purpose

Achieving the above points is almost impossible to do without understanding the people using your product. And even then, Human-Centred design is constant movement and innovation. You need to keep talking with your users, iterating, measuring and talking again. A simple method can be described as below:

  1. Plan
  2. User research and testing
  3. Design
  4. Measure
  5. Restart the process

Facebook would not be as big as they are today if they had stopped designing and iterating after reaching 50 million users. They had actually started experiencing negative growth at this point and Mark Zuckerberg quickly put together a growth team led by Chamath Palihapitiya to figure out how to grow Facebook past this invisible barrier.   

After looking at the data, what they found was that if a new user reaches seven friends within ten days they became an engaged user. And that was it. By talking to users, measuring and analysing data they had a game plan and they completely focussed their design and customer experience on this one objective. The rest you can say is history.

Human-centred design applies to all digital products used by people, whether it is a business developing an internal product for its employees or a startup looking to create a new app. It is not a hard process to follow, but one that can easily be ignored when concentrating too much on aesthetics or competitors’ products.

Because it is always the people that come first. For once you have engaged users you have a great digital product. And if ever you are in any doubt, just think of what John Lennon would say:

“Power to the People”

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