Human-centered design is, in simple terms, creating things based on how users will actually use them. The approach applies to products, processes, websites — anything, really. Admittedly, it is also an industry buzzword that can be found in most major publications and agency blogs. Whoops.
Trendiness aside, the value that human-centered design brings has become undeniably clear in recent months. Our commitment to applying this concept in relation to our clients has been a focus of Q1 and has laid the groundwork for a strong 2017.
The importance of human-centered design has manifested in a few different ways, one of which became clear during a potluck dinner with lots of wine — that’s right — Book Club.
The Springbox account team holds a quarterly book club, and one of our recent reads was TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.
In this book, Chris Anderson (curator of TED) states that a foundational principle of TED as an organization is that “the key to understanding anything is to understand the context in which it sits.” Recognizing a topic's relation to other disciplines is immensely valuable — that’s why TED talks can only be 18 minutes long. A speaker doesn’t have time to exhaust a topic — the goal is to make it accessible, and show why it matters.
This indicates that seemingly tangential information plays a critical role in understanding human motivation and behavior. According to Anderson, we need three things to understand and support new ideas:
- Contextual knowledge. Knowing the bigger picture and how all the pieces fit together.
- Creative knowledge. The knowledge and skills gained through exposure to other creative humans.
- A deeper understanding of our own humanity. This doesn’t come from listening to parents, friends, psychologists, etc. It comes from listening to everyone, collectively.
All three of these points are crucial, but let’s focus on the third: a deeper understanding of our own humanity and the value of contextual knowledge.
Given our work with the LBJ Library and The University of Texas at Austin, we invited Tanya Clement, professor at UT, to give an agency-wide presentation about the digital humanities. Her studies focus on the interplay of digital information systems and scholarly research in the humanities. Her work involves rethinking how institutions generate and interpret humanities data in contexts that are always shifting because of changing technologies.
The digital humanities focus specifically on items and subjects that hold one of three things: meaning, value or significance. To be truly human-centered, we need to define what those things are for our — and our clients’ — audiences. This then becomes the foundation of our strategic process.
Now, that we know what we need, the issue becomes about how we actually get that information. Our answer is clear: Workshops. They help us translate the lofty into the tangible.
Workshops are typically day-long working sessions with stakeholders from the Springbox and client teams. What that day looks like can vary depending on the client’s goals. We consider the context surrounding these goals using interactive exercises — there are a lot of sticky notes involved.
Tom Wujec, a Fellow at Autodesk, advocates solving problems by visualizing them collaboratively. Putting sticky notes on a whiteboard may seem like a simplistic way to view things, but this collaborative visualization makes everyone look at ideas collectively and agree on what is most important to the organization, and to its users.
Tactically, learning about the users a brand interacts with can inform many things (i.e., the best way to reach them, what types of content they’ll respond to, etc.). These answers help us define the full digital ecosystem that a brand is working with, and where the gaps are. That level of granularity then helps to inform the human-centered design approach that has become so buzz-worthy.
Strategically, there is a benefit to getting key stakeholders from different disciplines in one place along with digital experts who are poised to solve a problem. This meeting of the minds can help produce the best ideas. Bringing together a communications director, a designer, a CEO and a digital strategist combines vastly different viewpoints to reach a solution that no one of them alone could think up. Their collective knowledge provides the context needed to tackle a problem.
This level of alignment is invaluable, especially as decisions have to be made. Visualizing issues and priorities in a workshop setting often helps to get us there.
Laying this foundation makes the execution of any project a lot clearer. We can’t help but look at the big picture behind everything we do, which is why we love workshops.
When a robust strategic effort can be done initially, all subsequent efforts can be focused on the needs of the users. After all, that’s who we should be catering to — we just need to figure out how. And, when it comes to human-centered design, that’s where the value is.