From Theory to Practice: Applying Human-Centered Design to Your Everyday Work


Human-Centered Design (HCD) is a robust and multifaceted discipline, which can make applying it in your everyday work a daunting challenge. And, while this is certainly true, there are core dimensions of HCD that can be used as a starting point on the journey toward application.

Because understanding the theory of HCD is quite different from putting it into practice on a day-by-day basis, we have outlined three hallmark qualities that will make applying your HCD strategies far more approachable:

Lead teams to align on the right problem

When innovation frameworks are applied to it, Human-Centered Design provides a groundbreaking way of defining and ensuring teams are focused on the right problem.

In a world where business challenges are increasingly complex, applying the principles of getting the problem framed correctly is a way to demonstrate leadership and ensure the team doesn’t inadvertently shoot itself in the foot by launching headlong into solving the wrong problem.

Often, internal teams will have differing—and siloed—viewpoints on a specific business problem. And, while this makes alignment more challenging, it also creates an opportunity to break down those siloes by getting everyone focused around the consumer and their needs rather than internal agendas.

Building cross-functional bridges doesn’t have to be difficult. Often starting ideation sessions with a fun ice-breaker exercise will begin to break down barriers and foster connections. It’s also useful to find novel ways of bringing your consumers to life as human beings. Short video clips of consumer interviews can often be incredibly powerful in bringing them to life for internal team.

Once team building is out of the way, here are ways to go about ensuring you pinpoint the real issue at hand:

Make empathy a daily habit

When it comes to empathy-building, often the first thing that comes to mind is the traditional consumer research initiative. And, while this event-driven mindset is very much the norm, empathy in an HCD context is much more than that: empathy needs to permeate every aspect of it.

Here are some thought starters:

Apply an agile mindset to your daily work

One of the hallmarks of HCD is agility. But being agile isn’t just about being “fast”: it’s about finding ways of delivering value as efficiently as possible. In practice, an agile mindset means thinking differently about how your work gets done and the ways in which a team can break through functional silos.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some ideas:

While the above suggestions are purely jumping-off points, they serve as solid examples of practical ways you can begin to transition from understanding HCD as a concept to it becoming an enabler of rethinking both your own work, as well as becoming a catalyst to higher-performing teams.

At the end of the day, embracing the principles of Human-Centered Design is a long-term journey. These tried and proven steps should inspire you to begin developing new habits that quickly demonstrate the strong potential HCD has in creating a new way to see innovation through the eyes of your consumers.