The inevitable is hidden and forgotten
Human-centered design (HCD) continues to gain traction in a variety of industries. If done appropriately, the method has the ability to produce useful, customer-centric insights. These insights can be leveraged to generate new solutions that provide customers and businesses with long-term value. HCD entails a deep understanding of users, innovative thinking, and rapid solution testing.
When a company uses an HCD method, it improves its chances of getting better and more timely insights from customer interactions, allowing it to create and offer better services to customers. HCD not only benefits the company by resolving business issues, but it also allows for active cooperation, allowing customers to express their requirements, preferences, and aspirations.
Many solutions based on the HCD principle have failed miserably—see, for example, here and here. While the goal, desire, and appropriateness of utilizing HCD are undeniable, these failures show that HCD-based solutions frequently fail owing to a lack of supply-side buy-in and a lack of awareness of both internal and external market players beyond the end customer. Repeated “pivoting” to new solutions isn't a badge of achievement; it's a symptom that the earlier solutions' design was based on insufficient research.
A instance in which low enrolment for a product was attributed to poor awareness among potential customers is one example where HCD should have been implemented with greater rigors. The proposed solution was a smart, digital platform-based community financial literacy and marketing initiative, developed utilising the HCD technique. The solution, on the other hand, was based on findings from a quickly conducted study, which demonstrated that WhatsApp was a common source of information and that the servicing agent had limited time and capacity to exchange knowledge. The solution also included a gamification element, in which a person would be rewarded if they watched all of the suggested films and answered some questions.
However, the researchers overlooked an important point. The true barrier was not a lack of understanding on the part of the consumer, as they were already obtaining fundamental information from the agent, who was a reliable and influential source of information. Rather, the fundamental problem was that potential users, as well as certain current users, had a slew of questions that neither the agent nor other sources of information could address. Clearly, a better grasp of the context and deeper consumer insights would have revealed the true challenges, offered a solution, and, most significantly, improved the knowledge distribution hierarchy. In this scenario, the proposed digital platform, no matter how beautifully designed, smart, or engaging it was, was not the answer.
When HCD ignores the contexts or the ecosystem of providers, similar issues develop. In another HCD-led experiment, the proposed answer for increasing client adoption of mobile money was to create a model business that took the digital payment. Many shops in a neighbouring market accepted cash, supplied short-term loan, and were an important element of the communal relationships that villagers utilised to handle their financial concerns, according to the HCD process.
We have also witnessed many instances where HCD-led solutions have failed because of a partial involvement from service providers in the development of the solution or product or simply because the regulations did not permit the proposed product. Such examples indicate that research on the market and supply-side realities within which a solution must operate received inadequate attention.
We list below some limitations of HCD that providers, regulatory bodies, and other organizations should address.
1.) Because there is a superficial focus on knowing the context, there is often a “need to find a quick fix” bias. Based on a few interactions mapped according to work-plans and anticipated activities, a number of assumptions are made. As a result, the succeeding effort usually suffers from a planning error.
2.) With little contextual modifications, the HCD procedure merely evaluates "confirmation bias" as a pre-determined notion or "solution" from elsewhere. Local knowledge, facts, and ideas are frequently overlooked by practitioners. As a result, they will confront insurmountable obstacles to adoption.
3.) HCD is hampered by the "mental projection fallacy," which assumes that HCD practitioners have a complete awareness of their strategy, trajectory, or regulatory environment. As a result, the offered remedies will be difficult to implement in the organization's current strategic goals or in accordance with the law.
4.) HCD practitioners frequently fall into the “outside expert” trap, in which they spend insufficient time learning about the local context and lack appropriate local expertise. They don't put forth the effort to put together the necessary team and resources to grasp the context, such as producing and reading "research-guides," learning the local language used to express complex human financial behaviour, or doing participation exercises. This prejudice is often exacerbated by practitioners' unwillingness to formulate inquiries because they feel they "already know this well." As a result, they don't ask questions about context. Furthermore, such independent specialists frequently employ non-advertising methods or games.
5.) While a compelling and engaging presentation of ideas is critical, it can be exploited to hide a lack of in-depth evaluation and research, often known as the "design chic" dilemma. Indeed, the fact that teams spend more time developing presentations and reports than actually conducting fieldwork is a good signal of the problem.
Despite the inherent biases that emerge when practitioners conduct insufficient research, providers usually resist making adequate research investments. Although providers understand that disruptive thinking leads to solutions, they are typically content to conduct perfunctory research that lasts five to ten days and entails speaking with no more than ten or fifteen customers. As a result, they "mix and match" their learning from different settings and test design solutions with end-users quickly. This method ignores contextual information, such as one's decision-making process and emotional and mental limitations, i.e., behavioral challenges around crucial ideas.
Why do end-users behave the way they do?
What are the main socio-cultural impediments to the desired behaviour or goals?
Where is the chasm between intention and action?
What are the behavioural triggers that cause end-users to make certain decisions?
Before conceptualizing design solutions, these elements must be uncovered.
Balancing the act: give research its due!
The HCD methodology does not eliminate or diminish the relevance of research on its own. Yet, for some reason, research is consigned to solution testing, which takes precedence over creative thought. MSC's "Market Insights for Innovation & Design" (MI4ID) product and service development toolbox emphasises research-driven insights before innovations can begin. MI4ID also emphasises the importance of early involvement of individuals on the supply side who are responsible for implementing solutions. Here's where you can learn more about MI4ID and its success stories.
Adaptive research, in which competent field-discussion moderation reveals the intricacies surrounding the research problem, is critical. To interpret such nuances, most HCD research should include a carefully chosen blend of interactive approaches, such as conversations, games or participatory exercises, activity prototypes, observations, and mystery shopping, among others.
Providers should ideally acknowledge that research is an investment, one that is worth making to unlock value that lasts—thereby earning a great return on investment while also servicing satisfied customers—in order to get valuable insights and comprehend the situation on the ground. This necessitates a sympathetic mentality, which is difficult to create by simply looking at data online or interviewing a few people. To interact successfully with potential beneficiaries, researchers must invest time, align with the socio-cultural fabric, and merge with the larger society dynamics. Only then can successful interventions be devised.