The Human-Centred Design approach affords designers of any nature the opportunity to work with varied individuals/communities. Human-centred designers believe that all problems are solvable and the key to solving these problems are the individuals and communities who face these problems. Human-Centred designers can create varied solutions, ranging from products, services, experiences and social enterprises. The aim is to create innovative and new solutions that create real impact with a foundation in people’s actual needs.

There are five aspects/qualities that a Human-Centred designer needs to embody in order to create desirable, feasible and viable solutions.


1. Adopt the mindset
This mindset is one that believes the solution is out there and that keeping the individuals who the solution is being designed for at the center. IDEO’s Field Guide to Human-Centred Design highlights seven specific qualities for this mindset.

Empathy: The key to empathy is stepping into someone else’s shoes. An empathic mindset offers a new lens for solving problems and allows the designer to bring the individual along with them through the design process.

Optimism: Human-Centred designers embrace the idea of possibility and that if one doesn’t know the answer, there is a way to find it. Optimism encourages creativity by focusing on what could be done and not what obstacles there are.

Iteration: Feedback is critical to the design process, giving one the opportunity to explore. Being iterative keeps designers nibble, forcing one to constantly ideate, test and iterate. This saves on the resources of time and cost.

Creative Confidence: This is the belief that creativity is more than drawing and sculpting but instead a way of understanding the world. Everyone can be creative. This quality is relied on for making leaps in the design process.

Make It: The power of tangibility, making an idea into a mock-up/prototype reveals more insight than a theoretical idea. Technicalities of solutions emerge and forces designers to think of the solutions feasibility.

Embrace Ambiguity: The unknown forces designers to go into the work and interact with communities/individuals to understand the problems and gain insight for solutions.

Failure: A powerful tool for learning is failure. Closing oneself off from risk and failure, a designer misses the real chance to innovate which is inherent in Human-Centred Design. Getting it right the first time isn’t the point, put something out there have it be used and keep learning from it.

2. Understand The Process
There are three phases to the design process.

Inspiration – How to Understand People
This phase helps create empathy within a designer as one learns to observe people’s lives and what their hopes and dreams are. This preempts a designer to get smart about the challenge and solution.

Ideation – How to use what you have learnt to design a solution
Here, a designer identitifes opportunity for design and generates ideas from this. This phase also includes, the testing, iterating and refining of solutions.

Implementation – Putting your idea into the world
The solution is brought to life. The designers idea is taken to market to maximise impact.

While the design process is not exactly linear as designers may find they need to gain more inspiration in order to have a more ideas, these three phases are always seen in a design process.

3. Use The Tools
No two projects are ever exactly the same but there is a base tool kit that all human centred designers can use. Tools in your kit:

  • Interviews – these are done with communities, stakeholders and individuals who are all involved in the solution. This helps build empathy within the designer and also helps the designer gain a deeper understanding of the problem.
  • Work in Teams – teamwork keeps ideas generative. It allows for continuous iteration and feedback. Teams forces different type of people to work together gaining a variety of perspectives and understandings.
  • Detailed exercises and activities – these allow a designer to frame the design challenge in order to get the solution to market. Activities such as workshops, peer-to-peer interviews, prototyping, testing are interchangeable and reusable. These activities builds a process of continuous innovation while keeping individuals being designed for at the centre of this process.

4. Trust the Process
The design process ensures that you learn directly from individuals involved. This means one has to be open to creative possibilities. Focus on what is most desirable, feasible and viable. The process diverges and converges often, a human-centred designer is not scared of this, that one can go from abstract thinking and back to concrete observations all in one sitting.

5. Create Real Impact
Solutions should be desirable – speaking to individuals involved, feasible – relates to technology, implementation and scalability and finally viable – makes finance and business sense. It is balancing act between all three of these characteristics. This is critical to designing successful and sustainable solutions.

Find more info on in IDEO’s Field Guide to Human-Centred Design