What is human-centered design?


Human-centered design is focused, action-oriented, and most of all, empathetic. Its tenets are similar to what it takes to be a good educator. Learn about the correlation between good human-centered design and education.

Human-centered design educates

Human-centered design improves an experience by employing empathetic activities to solve a functional problem with a desired emotional result in a sustainable model. It is an approach to problem-solving that acknowledges and addresses the users’ needs.

For this to be achieved, the human is kept at the center of the process from start to finish, from generating the initial insights to iterative experimentation, to evaluating the proposed solutions. 

For a design solution to result in an improved experience, it must also educate the user on how to properly navigate or operate the new solution, ideally without a manual. 

Inherently, good design is rooted in successfully communicating new ways to think, feel, and behave that eliminate barriers and increase emotional satisfaction.

Teachers are natural designers

The act of teaching is rooted in creating good design and solving problems. 

Teachers may not think of themselves as designers, but they are constantly empathizing with their students, iterating new solutions, and working to solve functional and emotional problems to maintain a classroom learning environment that builds trust and confidence. 

That sounds like good design to me. 

If good design is at the foundation of a successful student and teacher relationship, we should be using design to develop the tools and techniques used at every level of the education experience. 

All stakeholders including policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, and students benefit from solutions developed through empathetic user research that is both comprehensive and inclusive of all user needs. 

Sustainable solutions that create change are neither top-down nor bottom-up. They include all participants at every level who are working to improve equity in a collaborative manner.

Design takes action

I often have the opportunity to speak to students about the annual Michigan Design Prize, and I begin by asking the question, “Who can be a designer?” I offer an answer: “Anyone who creates a new solution to improve a functional or emotional experience is a designer.” 

My answer doesn’t diminish the years of practice and many failures (and successes) it takes to become a great professional designer; instead, it opens the door to these students who are developing the confidence to try. 

In my experience collaborating with commercial and social industries, I’ve discovered that professionals often experience the same hesitancy and “fear of failure” that second graders do. They’re afraid to try something new. Even if they can get over the initial fear, they don’t know where to begin.

Students and professionals are often not short on ideas, but determining which ones are the best and tackling them can lead to action paralysis.

Going through the product development gauntlet with an experienced research and design team leads to action. Without action, it’s just talk or groupthink, and many teams can’t get their initial ideas out of the starting gate.

Design is focused

If a team can get through the first few steps and generate a bunch of good ideas, the natural reaction is to want to deploy them all at the same time. They think, “If three solutions are good, aren’t five better?” 

When clients serve a wide customer base, quantity can seem like a priority. This is a challenge for the education community attempting to equally serve every student or every teacher in every possible demographic or region. 

Everyone in the K-12 world is a potential user or customer, right? But strategies with this goal often become watered down, inefficient and cumbersome. 

At Sundberg-Ferar we have a design philosophy: “Stop trying to be all things to all people, start by being something to someone.”

To start, you must examine your core brand values, determine what makes you special versus your competition, and decide how that aligns with the functional and emotional attributes you identified in your research. All of the design work needs to focus on those synthesized models to deliver a solution that is clear in purpose, easy to use (that intuitive teaching aspect), and delivers a meaningful solution that users will want to return to often.

Design is vital to education

Learning and teaching are vital to designing well, and well-designed experiences are vital to learning and teaching. 

Design can unleash the potential of educators and those serving the education community by giving them the confidence to innovate, provide research and development tools, synthesize opportunities, and create solutions. 

Education faces challenges at every step of the way from countless directions. Good design is vital to create scalable solutions for every stakeholder, from a small daily activity designed to improve student motivation to large administrative strategies created to improve statewide professional development. 

Design is not easy, nor is it magic, but it gives developers and educators a roadmap to effectively learn something, try something, make something, and ultimately do something.

Picture of David Byron

David Byron

David Byron is the Director of Innovation Strategy at Sunberg-Ferar, a product innovation studio based in the Detroit metro area. David’s passion for design and cars led him to the Motor City, where he graduated from CCS in Transportation Design. He spent his early career at GM and ASC before becoming Lead Designer at Saleen, where he penned the 2008 S5S Raptor supercar and 2010 Saleen S281. David then jumped from sports cars to sports equipment when he joined New Balance’s hockey and lacrosse brand, Warrior, where he led the helmet design team. At Sunberg-Ferar, David provides a wide perspective when tackling the vast array of design challenges.

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