The days of just dreaming up a strategy in head office are over. Testing strategy in the real world, with real people, allows organisations to cut costs and improve returns, de-risk new products and propositions, and provide new and compelling ways to communicate change, enabling people to understand the value of what they’re doing.
In a world of investment slates, ROI, payback and NPV, companies are realising that customer and employee impact has economic value. Human Centred Design is a powerful way to tell this story – not only does a business case have economic value, it has a tangible impact on how people interact with your company, strategy, product or process. Human Centred Design captures and conveys this in a compelling way that is easy to communicate and understand. Furthermore, it enables us to configure our strategy around needs – eliminating costs invested in solutions customers don’t want, and creating new opportunities by identifying unmet needs.
In short, the ‘bottom line’ still counts when it comes to sign off, and Human Centred Design can have a big benefit to the bottom line.
So what is a Human Centred Design approach to strategy?
Paul Rehder, a partner in a Deloitte’s strategy practice, says it’s a: “Design process that puts people at the centre of everything we decide.” Once, strategy would have been developed in Corporate HQ, with minimal regard for the customers and employees it affected. Now, Human Centred Design ensures customers and employees are considered in every part of the decision making process.
Louise Chen and Simon Pelletier, design strategy specialists, also note that it can add value both internally and externally. Specifically, internal Human Centred Design can be designed to maximise productivity for internal stakeholders, whereas external Human Centred Design can be used to pivot the organisation into an adjacent market, address unmet customer needs and gain competitive advantage over incumbents.
In this sense, Human Centred Design is the people side of the strategy coin. It’s not just another tool, it’s a mindset and a key input into strategy. We can’t imagine a strategy without a market or competitor assessment. Similarly, a strategy that doesn’t account for people is only half the picture. For example, in the realm of innovation and growth strategy, it can be hard to create genuinely disruptive growth if we only have a market or internal perspective. We would merely be emulating what has been done before. Human Centred Design allows us to identify and address a need, create a new market, and benefit accordingly.
Debate currently abounds about the divergence of approaches to strategy (e.g. corporate, customer and digital strategies). However, many argue that eventually these will converge as a single strategy incorporating multiple perspectives. Thus, in terms of maturity when we talk about strategy, it is useful to delineate Human Centred Design to help organisations focus on the importance of focusing on people. But importantly, the mindset is key – and the goal is to move toward integrated thinking about strategy that encompasses a Human Centred perspective.
What’s the business case?
You may ask. Human Centred Design doesn’t trump market economics. Investment decisions need to be underpinned by solid commercials. For instance, when banks are considering investment slates and projects, they want to understand ROI, payback and NPV. However, customer and employee impact is also important when considering investment decisions – and Human Centred Design allows us to understand these factors.
Paul Rehder notes that Human Centred Design is so critical because it means “choices are rooted in reality, rather than dreamed up in a room.” Provided the financials for an investment stack up, Human Centred Design is a valuable input in that it helps ensure the outcomes are optimised and that we see the best possible ROI, as solutions are actually tailored to individual needs. Human Centred Design enables us to cut unnecessary investment, dramatically reduce time and cost to launch, improve returns and reduce the likelihood of failure by ensuring everything we do is configured to meet user needs
How do we do Human Centred Design?
Human Centred Design isn’t just an input, it’s a mindset. By placing people at the centre of every choice we make, we ensure we are making decisions that result in better outcomes for employees and customers.
This helps reframe opportunities and decisions. For example, Human Centred Design helps us perform ‘myth busting’ research to reveal what customers want, and gain insights that go against the current organisational grain. This can reveal new value opportunities, disprove false assumptions and reframe investment priorities.
A fairly simple example is when a company is designing a digital application form. The traditional approach would be to design the form based upon its relation to the right internal processes. It wold be built and rolled out on the basis of these internal processes, without focusing on the customers or employees who actually need to use and interact with the form. As a result, the form might be ineffective, frustrating to use, and ultimately bypassed or ignored by users – negating its value entirely. Customers might not even want a form! Thus, it becomes a key pain point for customers and employees, reducing satisfaction, motivation and a raft of other important internal performance and customer satisfaction metrics.
Conversely, a Human Centred Design approach to creating the application form would mean sitting with customers and staff to observe how they interact, perform their roles and engage with the form. It would include an assessment of what the form means to stakeholders, how they feel about it, and the added value created by ease of use. This may, for instance, reveal that the process needs to be redesigned. More fundamentally, it may reveal a need that isn’t being met, which the organisation can pivot to meet. In this case, the solution may be to scrap the form and develop an entirely new offering.
This kind of insight requires specialist teams experiencing and empathising with customers and employees, prototyping and testing solutions to arrive at optimal outcomes. It calls for designers, ethnographers and a specific approach and skill set. This ability to rapidly diverge and converge, prototype and fail fast allows for the development of numerous ideas and to take successful products through to commercialisation.
Given the unique skillset required to conduct Human Centred analysis and design, it requires specific capabilities that may not currently exist within an organisation. At Deloitte, we believe in delivering Human Centred Design in a unique and integrated way – not only testing the desirability of a strategy, but also the extent to which it is feasible and viable. We believe in combining a rich tapestry of capabilities, woven together to create a whole that is greater than and differentiated from the sum of its parts. The core requirement sits with the ability to command skilled practitioners experienced in adapting to a range of challenges, clients and industries, who can meld design with digital development capability, with financial capability and economic analysis, all brought together and aligned within a strategic framework. It’s different. And it delivers.
 Whilst this article focuses predominately on the value of Human Centred Design in assessing the desirability of a strategy, Deloitte also use it to assess the feasibility and viability of a strategy as well