Spreading the word about human-centred design

23 December 2016
23 December 2016 Tenaka

A little while back, while trekking the journey of a design agency pondering the question of defining itself, a bright light shone right in our startled eyes – the light of an organisation called IDEO; a light that shines far and wide, making a difference in people’s lives and continuously seeking out the best possible approaches to solving problems. IDEO, along with others like Frog and Huge, has become one of our heroes – a business role model, you might say; someone we get all wide-eyed and wobbly about.

Amid the world of design thinking resources available to anyone who’s interested, IDEO has shared a series of courses, one of which was to facilitate a human-centered design workshop. They provided the course materials, including a presentation, facilitator’s notes and guidance throughout the preparation stages. All we had to do was show up. And boy, did we.

Interviewing Deeza about human-centred design workshops at Tenaka’s Tribe

  • Interviewer: Connie the comfort-zone countess
  • Interviewee: Deeza the ‘Do it’ dudette (workshop facilitator)

C: So, you pulled off a human-centred design workshop at Tenaka. How was it?

D: Wow, where do I start? We put a lot of work in, Ramo [co-facilitator] and I, and it paid off. The workshops were a success. We learned a lot, the delegates learned something – mostly that getting out of your comfort zone really pays [shudder] – and hopefully everybody took enough away with them at the end of the day to keep the design thinking flame burning. It’s amazing how this way of thinking applies to so many challenges.

C: What exactly is this thing you call human-centred design?

D: It’s an approach to solving problems that puts the people we’re solving the problem for at the centre of the process. That means, before we start coming up with possible solutions to a problem – usually based on our assumptions and those of our clients – we go out there and we ask, we listen and we observe. This gives us some insight into what real people see as challenges and what we should be focussing on to help tackle those challenges.

C: Wait, so you actually go out there and interview people on the street?

D: [laughs as I recoil] Sure. Sometimes. You have to look at your audience. That’s really the first question you ask: Who am I designing for? Whose problem am I trying to solve? Whose life are we making better and easier? Once you’ve defined your ‘who’, you go and talk to them. Sometimes, that’s people on the street.

C: And do you just go and have an informal chat, like, ‘Hi, how are you today?’

D: Well, you start by defining what problem you’re trying to solve, and you formulate your questions around that problem. Sometimes, the interview might lead you in a different direction, and that’s great. It’s important to be open to taking the process in a new direction if new insights arise.

C: I see. Interesting… Speaking of going in a new direction, it looks like we’ve deviated a bit from my original questions…

D: Great. You’re learning.

C: Don’t give me too much credit. I don’t want it to go to my head… So, let’s get this straight: in the human-centred design workshop you did, you took participants out and unleashed them on the public? Were they terrified?

D: Hah! There was a little trepidation, but, you know, strangers are humans, too, and many were totally open to stopping for a quick chat. It was heartwarming to see how willing people were to spare a few minutes, without warning, you know?

C: So that was your research. Did they get something out of it, the participants?

D: Oh yeah. Lots. Some of the findings confirmed our assumptions, but a lot of the stuff that came up was surprising. For example, (our overall challenge was around health) we found that a lot of people felt the struggle to be healthy was exacerbated by all the misinformation around food; that all the people we spoke to who go to gym were in a hurry; that a lot of older people see being healthy as a state of mind, a way of living, rather than an extra conscious effort you have to put in. It was pretty interesting. But we also learned that some people are not that keen to talk about their health beyond a superficial level, which led us to think about what other methods we might employ to dig deeper in our research.

C: Okay, so, once you’ve got all that data, what do you do with it?

D: You bring it back to the office, slap it on a bunch of Post-Its, make sense of it all, find patterns and formulate some questions that are positive and neither too broad nor too narrow, that will spark a mega brainstorm session.

C: Sounds terrifying.

D: [Giggles knowingly (and with a touch of malice, I observe)] Funnily enough, brainstorming can be quite icky for some people, but the beauty of this process is that you have guiding questions to keep you on track, and we also review some of the helpful rules around brainstorming…

C: You have rules around brainstorming? But I thought it was more like a free for all…?

D: In a sense. One of the rules is that you shouldn’t hold back – quantity over quality; another is that you should reserve judgment – let those ideas flow and encourage others to be bold, then you can build on those ideas.

C: That could work… So did anybody dry up?

D: For sure. Us humans have a real knack for censoring ourselves. We get an idea, but our censor says, “That’s rubbish. You can’t say it out loud. They’ll laugh at you.” So, it was really important for us to be very encouraging at those times; to help people over their inhibitions, give that stuffy old censor a good kick in the teeth, you know?

C: Er… Sure… And then?

D: You vote for the most promising ideas to come out of the brainstorm and take one or two of those into the next phase: prototyping.

C: Are you going to make me ask?

D: Oh, go on…

C: Fine. What on earth is prototyping?

D: Well, since you ask [she’s revelling in the attention, now], prototyping is testing your ideas to find out if they are feasible and how they might work in the real world. We start off by going right back to basics with things like cardboard, bottles, glue, Post-Its, pencils, Prestik.

C: Sounds like Mr Maker? Back to playschool.

D: You know, the beauty I find in this whole process is that it really does get you in touch with your inner child: the person who isn’t afraid to fail or to get their hands dirty; the curiosity; the open mind and willingness to learn. So it’s funny you should say that. I imagine Mr Maker’s materials would be just what we need to prototype. Sometimes, of course, you might prototype an environment or a service, which you’d probably do some kind of role play for.

The whole point of prototyping is that you get to put your potential solution into the hands of the people you’re designing for and get their crucial feedback about what works, what doesn’t, how it makes them feel and how you might improve your solution. The feedback you get – and you need to present your prototype in a way that elicits honest feedback – informs the next iteration, the next version. And this iterating, testing and improving goes on until you have a solution that people want, that you can make and that is going to be sustainable over time. The great thing about prototyping is that you find out a lot and can make a lot of necessary changes to your solution without having to spend loads of money.

C: Hmm… That sounds like a great idea! Why don’t more people use this method, do you think?

D: Great question! Some people have the idea that there’s no time to go through these stages before we put something out there – a product or an experience, for example; that we need to get on with making it and selling it. The thing is, by doing it that way around, we spend a lot more time and money coming up with something and having to make big, expensive changes after it’s gone to market because it’s not what people want. Human-centred design saves us the time and money we mistakenly think we’re saving by getting it out there as quickly as possible without first asking ‘Will this meet your need?’ first.

Another reason is that some of us don’t want to imagine that we don’t know all the answers. We live in a world that rewards knowing, rather than an openness to learn, where admitting you don’t know is seen as some kind of flaw. In spreading human-centred design, I’d like to spread the idea that saying ‘I don’t know; let’s find out’ is a wonderful start to a conversation and a journey of learning.

C: Woah. That’s deep, man.

D: Haha. [She’s laughing, but her eyes are a little misty, too.]

C: So, this workshop sounds like an awful lot of stuff to get through in one day with people who have never come across this approach before. Did you manage it?

D: It was tight! There’s a lot of timer bleeps going off throughout the day. It’s good, though. It keeps the energy up and forces people to think quickly, to not be so precious about their ideas…. Yeah, we made prototypes and tested them: in one workshop, we went back out to test in the same place – a shopping area – that we’d gone to in the morning to interview people; in the other, each group tested with the others, and that was just as effective, we found.

C: Ha! So you were switching it up as you went, too. It’s almost like you were prototyping the workshop.

D: Now who’s getting deep? Haha! Yeah, you’re right. We were totally prototyping the workshop – the feedback we got in the first workshop informed the second, and feedback from both will inform future workshops.

C: You mean you’re going to do this again?

D: Absolutely! We got so much out of it, and we feel really strongly about spreading the word on human-centred design. This workshop is a great way to do that.

C: So what will you do differently next time you do the workshop?

D: Thinking like a real human-centred designer now, hey? Love your work. I think we would consider upscaling this a bit. We had 10 participants at one workshop and about 16 at the other. It would be interesting to see what happens with larger numbers. We’d also make it more our own. The IDEO framework was so helpful because we’d never done a workshop like this before, but as we go forward, our own learning around human-centred design will no doubt have a huge influence on the workshops we run.

C: Great. Can I come to the next one?

D: Of course! We had friends, family members, industry peers, existing and potential clients – our only criterion for joining was that you had to be someone who would get something out of it (and not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone).

C: [I squirm] Hmm… I like my couch and ice cream… Ah, what the heck. You know, I started this interview not really having much of a clue what human-centred design is all about, I confess [blush], and now it makes a world of sense and I feel like I really want to get into discovering more.

D: That’s great news. There’s a lot to discover and a lot of fun to be had doing it.

C: So when is the next workshop?

D: Watch this space. And give me your email address so I can put you on our mailing list. That way, you’ll get a mailer when there’s a workshop coming up.

D: Essentially, no. We don’t want to confuse people by giving it a different name when the principles and methods are basically the same, we just want to say that we are taking an effective approach to problem solving and making it even better through continuous practice and learning, and adding our own unique Tribal touch to it. We’re saying that, yes, the process is brilliant and we strongly advocate it, but we believe in continuing to push and test the process itself – iterating, testing and improving it in our own Tribal way – to make it even more efficacious.

Closing disclosure

Because pulling off those workshops felt monumental, this #TribalShare piece is a celeb interview, except that I interviewed myself – there are no Deeza and Connie… (a bit freaky, but kinda cool, too, since I got to choose the questions I wanted to answer – #TrendSetter #Selferview).

The evidence

This may have been a selferview, but the workshops were real.