When it comes to designing solutions to the challenges facing our planet, there is a tendency in the impact world to start designing from the desire to create impact.
This sounds obvious. After all, it is only by creating impact that a given issue can be solved. But no matter the potential impact, there won’t be any if nobody wants to use your solution! Too often the focus is exclusively on impact, leaving the end user of a business or product forgotten.
Enter Human Centered Design.
For a solution to stand a chance of changing the way things are done it must go beyond impact alone and provide a superior experience for the end user when compared to the ‘unsustainable’ alternative. Human Centered Design, or HCD, is an approach to designing systems in which the end user is the starting point of the design process. It gives us the best possible toolkit to create solutions that are not just impactful, but desirable.
Here’s how we apply HCD at Enviu:
Putting the people we serve at heart of our design process
Before you can design an impactful solution, you must first understand what the consumer needs. Though the design of all our ventures starts from a particular issue (for example the plastic pollution created by the use of single use sachets) our first step is always a deep analysis of customer needs.
This analysis must result in qualitative data. It’s only by drilling deep into the customer experience that we can find the details, quirks and surprises that form the basis of a great idea.
There is a huge opportunity here to experiment with all kinds of methodology – don’t be afraid to think beyond the survey!
Here are just a few ideas you could employ to understand your end user:
- Photo/video journaling the customer journey
- Asking customers to draw their experience
- Spending a day shadowing customers
- Conducting group interviews/discussions
- Immerse yourself and live a day-in-the-life of your target customer
When our Zero Waste Living Lab’s team in Indonesia was designing our venture Koinpack (a reusable alternative to single-use sachet packaging), they spent a day in a convenience store, shadowing and speaking to customers and sellers. In doing so they discovered that though customers preferred the small, affordable doses of common household products in single-use sachets, the fact they couldn’t easily be resealed without leaks was a major pain point. This revealed the opportunity for a reusable, resealable container to enter the market.
Putting the user first unlocks new answers to old problems
Once our research phase is complete and we know what a customer needs in a product or service, we begin to brainstorm.
The focus here is on ensuring that the solution we are designing is not just impactful, but solves user problems and seamlessly integrates into their routine, existing shopping habits or supply chain.
HCD dictates we anticipate and adapt to the needs of the user throughout the brainstorming process. This means constant communication and feedback with the end user, testing with prototypes, and getting as much quality information as possible before finalizing designs.
Throughout this process we strive for creative confidence. Anyone from the team could have that next big idea, designer or not. In our brainstorming there are no bad ideas and we continually build on each other’s suggestions. Only by pitching anything and everything can we uncover ideas that would normally be missed!
Take Econesia, our Zero Waste Living Lab’s answer to the plastic pollution caused by single-use water bottles. A quick and obvious solution to this issue would have been a reusable bottle system. Instead the team thought outside the box and settled on a water filtration system for the hospitality sector. This idea allowed hotels to eliminate the ubiquitous single-use plastic water bottle by offering their clients a healthy and premium alternative. The impact was enormous and immediate. Today Econesia has already prevented more than 2,000,000 plastic bottles from being used and ending up as waste.
But wait, what if there is no problem?
It’s much easier to think of a human centered solution when impact can be created by solving a problem.
Take Kenya, where farmers face huge post-harvest food losses that eat away at their income. Our Foodflow Program’s cold storage as a service venture SokoFresh solves this problem and in doing so creates significant impact: cutting food loss, increasing farmer income and reducing c02 consumption per kilo of edible food produced.
But what if the customer has no problem? How then can we shift them away from their unsustainable way of doing things?
Consider, for example, the single-use plastics that are ubiquitous in many home goods. Everything from hand soap and washing up liquid to bleach and floor cleaner comes packaged in plastic bottles. How can we get rid of this source of plastic waste when the customer has no obvious problem which could see them switch to an alternative?
The answer lies in providing a superior experience (easier said than done). In this case we went for greater convenience and built Qyos. This venture provides refills for a wide range of home goods out of a vending machine located just meters from the user’s home, making reuse that much more convenient than traditional shopping.
HCD – more than just set and forget
A common pitfall when implementing HCD is to, well, forget to keep doing it! Using HCD is not a one and done, set it and forget it approach. It’s a methodology that must be kept in mind throughout the design process.
Every product or business model change must be implemented through a lens of how it will affect the end user. This isn’t just in the design phase, but after launch too. By maintaining a continuous dialogue with your users you can stay on top of even the most unexpected developments.
Again, a great example of this is Qyos. As the COVID19 pandemic spread, their refill vending machines were mistaken for hand sanitizer dispensers due to their color scheme and design. Had we not been in contact with the users, this is something we might have missed!
In the end, a large part of using human centered design means accepting that the development of a solution is not a straight line from A to B, but a tangled web of learnings, iterations, pivots and redesigns – leading to a product that provides real value for its users.
Why HCD is part of our venture building toolkit
As impact venture builders, the reality of what we are proposing is extremely ambitious. Building ventures that can create meaningful impact means moving people away from shopping habits and consumption patterns that have been developed and ingrained over decades. HCD gives us the best possible chance to do this, helping us position our solutions for adoption at scale.
At Enviu we don’t use HCD in isolation but instead as part of a toolkit, combined with lean methodology (covered in our previous blog post). Impact venture builders have much to gain by combining these two distinct methodologies. Lean thinking lets us work quickly, efficiently and with lower budgets; whilst human centered design ensures that the ideas we build are not just impactful, but useful, practical and desirable for the end user.
Know of another methodology or approach that lends its self to impact, get in touch! We’d love to start a conversation!