Human Centred Design: How It Assisted Business Development

Human Centred Design: How It Assisted Business Development

In SPRING evaluation blogs and reports we often speak about Human Centred Design (HCD) and the central role it played in SPRING’s overall design. In this blog, Gordon Freer, the Evaluation Team Lead reflects on how the SPRING programme exposed businesses to this approach and way of thinking to develop and refine their prototypes. This change contributed to SPRING’s lasting legacy in this area.

If Human Centred Design (HCD) had a mantra, it would be “iterate, iterate, iterate”. Its premise is that a business carries out iterative research with the users of its products and services and makes improvements based on the results, before going back into the field to test their new offering.

It’s safe to say that the SPRING experience demonstrates that HCD is not an arm’s-length research process quantifying nameless and faceless data. Instead, it focuses on robust, detailed research giving insight – not into the solution that your business has to offer – but into the problems or challenges that your customers and clients face. It’s about uncovering ways in which they can or cannot use your product or service, it’s about unpacking parts of your offering that they find difficult to understand or to use, it’s about opening up your product or service and making it vulnerable to comments, criticisms, and corrections from both your clients, and sometimes your competitors.

Ultimately, it’s about making the business’ offering more user-friendly, more robust, and more applicable, to their clients. And in turn, the product or service will be more useful and more appealing to their customer base. This results, potentially, in better sales, greater scale, and larger profits which was often main driver for SPRING businesses.

SPRING didn’t believe in doing things half-heartedly. In each of the four cohorts, the implementation team met with the businesses in face-to-face gatherings, or boot camps. Here intense, focused, interactions offered technical support on a range of issues, and this is where businesses learned about and explored the HCD approach.

Not content with limiting the participants’ exposure to theory-based lectures, SPRING tossed businesses into the HCD deep end. Within the first two or three days of the boot camp, businesses were tasked with a real-life practical exercise. The businesses experimented with HCD by researching a hypothetical product or service – a new mobile phone package, a new banking service, or a new type of shopping experience – but in the real world. After receiving a briefing of their hypothetical topic, participant teams made up of the SPRING businesses interviewed real life users regarding their recent experiences. This was done to identify problems, challenges, suggestions, complaints, and concerns. The business teams then collated the data, looking for common threads, and presented their findings and suggestions for a revised, refined product or service.

Participants were then required to apply these newly found skills to their own businesses and prototypes, first using their fellow participants as both commentators and critics, before venturing into the field. After boot camp, the businesses tested their prototypes with their real-world users – adolescent girls. The prototypes were further refined as SPRING progressed, with the businesses increasing the understanding of HCD with every step of application.  

HCD adds value, but it also takes effort and investment of time and resources. Businesses soon realised the opportunity cost of researching and iterating. Even SPRING itself, fell short of this goal at times, failing to take sufficient time to consider learnings.  For example, the implementation overlap between Cohorts 2 and 3 did not allow sufficient time for SPRING to reflect on lessons and think through iterations – something the programme always urged its businesses to do.

In spite of this, the true impact of this new methodology, and the value it has added to the businesses is seen in our sustainability study. As illustrated by one business, “HCD is something we picked up at SPRING and we’re not going to let go of it anytime soon, because it just makes sense.” 92% of the businesses we interviewed continue to use HCD in some way even two years after SPRING closed. 6% stopped using the methodology only because of the constraints imposed on their businesses by the recent pandemic.

As a programme, SPRING was required to iterate and adapt. They did this partly through their use of HCD, and the programme legacy, is the SPRING businesses’ ongoing use of the same principles.