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The importance of user centric design

At a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1973, Thomas John Watson Jr (then CEO of IBM) made the statement that “Good design is good business.” More than 45 years later, this single statement still holds true.

More and more businesses are realising that User-Centered Design (UCD) isn’t just about making it look pretty. It’s about the lasting impact that good design can have not only the end user but also on revenue and shareholder returns.

This article will dive a little bit deeper into what User-Centered Design is and how businesses are using it to design better products and services for their customers.

So, what is User-Centered Design?

“Have a great idea, build it, and hope the customers will come”.

Historically this was a common approach, and unfortunately is still being practised today in 2019.

Imagine this: Your product design team has come up with one of the most amazing design concepts you have ever seen. You immediately begin to think about all of the press your company will receive and all the awards you will win. The champagne will flow and you will be invited to all of the amazing design industry events and launches for the next 12 months.

But there’s one very big problem. While your product design team may have had the best intentions, those same intentions don’t equate to the ones of your consumer.

The reality is that this approach is fundamentally flawed in that it only satisfies the needs and desires of the company and ultimately places the consumer in the background. It can also lead to wasted effort and cost to the company.

User-Centered Design also known as Human-Centered Design is a methodology that involves end users as part of the design process. By doing so, companies can ensure that the end product they create suits the consumer’s needs and desires.

“When you understand the people you’re trying to reach  —  and then design from their perspective  —  not only will you arrive at unexpected answers, but you’ll come up with ideas that they’ll embrace.” – IDEO

There are four main phases of a User-Centered Design process:

1. Inspiration

Before a product design team puts pencil to paper or opens up their favourite design tool, it’s important to engage directly with the target audience to determine their pain points. This is essentially a research phase where you can find out what excites them, what frustrates them and so on. The product design team gets to know the end user so they can begin to understand them better and gain a sense of empathy. It is important to remember that the designer is not the customer.

2. Ideation

When the product design team has a full understanding of the consumer, you can then start to brainstorm ideas for how your product can solve their problems and fulfill their needs. This is generally done using tools like customer personas, persona spectrums, mind maps and so on. For more information on inclusive design, see Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Methodology. From this you should have a solid understanding of your end user’s goals, with a strong body of research and ideas to meet their needs.

3. Prototyping & user testing

With the foundation established, you can now build a minimum viable product for user testing. The purpose of testing with real users is to establish whether the hard work you put into the Ideation phase is actually proven. Does it solve the consumer’s problem? At this stage it is also important to set up a feedback loop, where you can roll out changes, gather feedback from users and make new changes based on that feedback

4. Implementation

Your product has now been tested and you’ve implemented the changes based on the feedback you received from users to the point you’re satisfied it is solving the issues identified during the research phase. It’s now time to release your product to into the wild! But it doesn’t stop here. It’s also important to keep the feedback loop open to review and monitor the performance of your product once released. Any issues that weren’t considered or didn’t show up in user testing can now be addressed and implemented “on the fly”. It happens to the best of us, and is the best interest of both the product and the customer.

Another important aspect to consider after implementation is a rock solid digital marketing strategy. The insights gained from the Inspiration and Ideation phases can go a long way to implementing a strategy that is highly targeted and user focused.

The business value of design

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a significant report in October of 2018 titled The business value of good design.

The extensive survey was conducted to answer a simple, yet extremely complex question: What is design worth? The survey was conducted with the assistance of 300 publicly listed companies over a five year period across multiple countries and verticals.

They also developed the McKinsey Design Index (MDI), which rates companies by how strong they are at design and —for the first time — how that links up with the financial performance of each company.

Some of the key takeaways we found interesting from the report were:

Faster revenues and returns to shareholders

Businesses who scored highly in terms of how strong they are at design increased both revenues (32 percentage points) and total returns to shareholders (56 percentage points) faster than other industry counterparts for the five year period as a whole.

Design-driven growth

Design-driven growth has so much potential for both product and service- based sectors. The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to pursue user centric, analytically informed design today.

Customers can feed opinions back to companies (and to each other) in real time, allowing design to be measured by customers themselves — whether or not companies want to listen.

Design metrics can be tied to business goals

One medical equipment group surveyed in the report placed significant importance around the design of a new surgical machine as it sought to head off a growing threat from competitors.

The commitment of the CEO and senior executives was intense; executive bonuses were tied to the product’s usability metrics and surgeon satisfaction scores.

Cross-functional and co-located teams carried out more than 200 user tests over two years, from the earliest concepts to the detailed design of features. In all, more than 110 concepts and prototypes were created and iterated.

The final design’s usability score — a measure of customer satisfaction — exceeded 90%, compared with less than 76% for the machines of its two main competitors.

In the past six months, the company’s market share has jumped 40%, in part as investors understand the upcoming user-centric products and services that set the company apart from its competition and — even more important — that will improve patients’ lives.

Can your business benefit from a little User-Centered Design? Bang Digital has a team of passionate and experienced design, strategy and user experience professionals ready to help you succeed. Contact us today.

About Rebekah Jones

After graduating from a Bachelor of Communications majoring in Journalism and Public Relations on the Gold Coast, Rebekah returned to the West to launch her career in the communications industry. Since uni, Bek has worked in content marketing as a copywriter, where she discovered her passion for helping businesses establish their brands online through high quality content.