More recently, human-centered design (HCD) has gained popularity as a means for organizations to connect more deeply with their stakeholders and design “people-focused” solutions. Challenging the notion that design thinking is just for the creative fields, this process uses iterative brainstorming sessions and pays a particular attention to the end user’s needs. This allows us to view stakeholders in a new light and design creative solutions to thorny problems.

If you are familiar with the design thinking approach, you are aware that it is tactile in a way that a regular meeting isn’t: sticky notes, sketches, prototypes, and role play are used to explore innovative solutions. But it is not the flashy tools that make human-centered design effective, rather it is the attention given to stakeholders’ needs. While the design process may seem daunting, the most important element of human-centered design is gaining and building solutions based on a true understanding of your stakeholders. We at Public Works Partners previously explored how we use human-centered design for journey mapping. We continue to use this process for all our client engagements to ensure our work encompasses everyone’s viewpoint. Below are three ways to do this:

  1. Start simply

Before you abandon your favorite facilitation techniques for design-based ones, consider inviting a new perspective to the table or reframing your questions as a means of gathering more authentic feedback. New techniques can only do so much—there are a limited number of ways the same group can answer the same question. New people and perspectives will yield more valuable input than new techniques. Here at Public Works, we make sure to consider other groups that could potentially provide input, avoid yes or no questions, and invite participants to share their experience with the service using open-ended questions. Use these techniques and you will be on your way to building a people-focused solution.

  1. Be ready to be wrong.

The most important part of human-centered design is being willing to challenge your assumptions. Begin your session with the knowledge that you and your team represent one perspective and that you are seeking input for a reason. When you detach from your assumptions, you will be much more likely to align to the true needs of your stakeholders in the final solution. Using this mindset does not require post it notes or prototypes—it only requires the belief that your stakeholders’ concerns and experiences are valid. If you believe this, your outcomes will reflect it.

  1. Focus on sustainable processes, not one-stop solutions.

Human-centered design works because it sets up sustainable solutions that the end user can own long-term, not because it creates magical one-time fixes. Rather than searching for a groundbreaking solution, you will ultimately be more impactful if you focus on building processes that remove pain points and build sustainable, simple service delivery models. Incorporating this element can be as simple as focusing on the “why” behind your stakeholders’ recurring needs and challenges. Then, consider what tweaks in existing processes might alleviate them. This could include simplifying the registration process for your services, creating versions of your marketing materials in multiple languages, or including a few members of your target audience to help plan your upcoming programming. By examining the process you take to develop your product or services, rather than just shifting the product or services themselves, you’ll set yourself up for long-term solutions. Particularly for smaller organizations operating with limited budget or tight timelines, the more process-oriented you can make your solution, the better.

Although it might seem like incorporating human-centered design into your organization is a heavy lift with new techniques to learn, it is your team’s mindset that counts. All of the tools that this process touts are just that—tools. We at Public Works have found success in—and have enjoyed—using these steps to ensure that our work is human-centered, and we hope you do as well.