Designing for Success: Human-Centered Design Principles to Drive Satisfaction and Growth

By Mark Ogilbee posted 10-16-2023 04:01 PM


This week on the blog Lynnaea Haggard, marketing manager for ATC Business Service participant Sundberg-Ferar, wraps up a three-part series on how startups can leverage the power of human-centered design to maximize go-to-market success. 

Human-centered design principles have long been known to be crucial for creating products that truly benefit customers and stakeholders. Since the term was coined and its practice became popular, designers and innovators have come to realize that human-centered design — or HCD — isn't just beneficial for individual users and businesses, it has a much broader impact, allowing those who practice its principles to affect entire communities, systems and economies. When HCD principles are properly implemented, everyone involved reaps the rewards. 

HCD can play an especially vital role for AgeTech startups by helping create tailored solutions that meet the specific needs and challenges of older adults. By considering age-related factors, prioritizing usability and accessibility and involving older adults in the design process, AgeTech startups can develop intuitive, inclusive and trustworthy products and services. HCD helps startups improve user adoption, personalize solutions, uphold ethical considerations and ultimately have a positive impact on the lives of older adults and the communities they live in. 

Whether you're new to this concept or a seasoned practitioner, understanding and implementing these principles is essential. Let's explore some of those and how to implement them effectively. 


Conduct Design Research to Develop a Deep Understanding of Stakeholders

To understand all stakeholders involved in the product life cycle, it's crucial to conduct comprehensive research. This will help the design team (even if that's just you for now) get a better understanding of users, their goals, their behaviors and the context in which they live and work. As part of this, a diverse range of stakeholders should be considered, including those with varying abilities, health factors, demographics and backgrounds. Stakeholders beyond the immediate user should also be included, including caregivers, healthcare professionals and even children or grandchildren who may be impacted by a design targeted toward an older adult. This will help create solutions that are inclusive, accessible and meaningful to everyone who may be impacted by them.  

Design research should focus on extracting relevant information, synthesizing insights and uncovering the root issues to be addressed. Trained researchers and moderators should facilitate the process, ensuring unbiased representation of user reactions and emotions. To read more about the process of design research, check out our recent blog post here


Design for Differentiation

Beyond understanding stakeholders’ needs is the imperative to solve for needs that aren’t being addressed elsewhere in the market. Differentiation is a principle of HCD that pushes products to fulfill these unmet needs. Solutions should be distinctive and be able to stand out in a competitive market landscape, not just sit on a shelf right beside a similar product that already solves the same problem for users. This not only helps avoid redundancies by creatively addressing a range of human problems, but also sets a solution up for success by offering unique features, benefits or experiences users can’t get anywhere else.

Designing differentiated solutions that are tailored to user needs makes those solutions more likely to resonate with the target audience. By consistently delivering user-centered designs that are differentiated, your startup can establish a reputation for being customer-focused and forward-thinking. This reputation, in turn, can attract new customers, fuel business growth and facilitate expansion into new markets. 


Test and Validate with Real Users in Real-Life Scenarios

As concepts develop, testing with real users will help ensure the final product addresses real needs. Approaching this testing in an iterative fashion — that is, repeatedly prototyping, testing and refining ideas based on user feedback — will allow the design team to address issues and make improvements, leading to better design outcomes.  

Testing should also try to re-create scenarios that closely resemble real-life situations so that physical, environmental and social factors that influence the user’s experience are taken into account.  

For example, we recently partnered with a client that was developing a robotic feeding assistant. One important point of focus was on managing a complex set of motors and controls within a friendly, easy-to-use user experience. Part of the solution refinement included two-week in-home trials among key users and caregivers utilizing workable prototypes. This allowed for real-world observation of everyday activities, such as meal prep, programming, eating, and cleaning experiences, all leading to many valuable insights into the robot’s successes and failures. But observations also led to a surprising and critical insight — the device took on a much more important role over the trial period than that of an assistive machine. It became a helper and almost a “part of the family.” As a result, the company programmed human personality traits into the device to reinforce the positive emotional connection between the user and the product. 


Align with Business Needs to Ensure Product Viability

While the primary focus of HCD is often on understanding and meeting the needs of users, it’s also important to consider the goals, capabilities and resources of the business implementing the design. This includes considering aspects such as the company’s vision, mission and strategic goals, as well as operational considerations such as technical capabilities, budget constraints, supply chain partners, manufacturing methods and customer services.  

By integrating business viability considerations into HCD practices, startups can align their design efforts with market needs, growth objectives and financial sustainability. This holistic approach to the product-business relationship will lead to better outcomes for scalability, profitability and long-term success. 


Design for Healthy Communities by Considering Environmental and Social Viability

While viability in terms of economics to the business is critical, it’s also important to consider long-term implications of designs on the environment and communities, across the entire lifecycle of a product. This means understanding impacts created by the supply chain (material extraction, manufacturing and transportation/retail), effects from the eventual use of the product, and impacts at the end of the product’s life. 

Considering social viability requires understanding the needs of stakeholders such as workers and local communities where the supply chain is operating, designing for a diverse and equitable user base and thinking about the communities and businesses that might be responsible for the product’s end of life. 

Environmental viability might include understanding how to minimize resource consumption by reducing the amount of energy required for the product’s manufacturing, use, and operation, and by planning for recyclability or reusability. By incorporating environmental considerations, human-centered design aims to minimize the negative ecological impact of the design solution. Failing to consider either the social or environmental factors may result in harm to ecosystems and future generations. 

For further reading, see these resources from Sundberg-Ferar: Designer’s Imperative: How to Approach Sustainable Product Design and How to: Plastic Materials Selection in Sustainable Product Design.  

The principles above are just some of the ways to approach human-centered design and create a meaningfully differentiated product that meets real needs for real people, all while growing startups’ businesses and realizing important return on investment for investors. 

At Sundberg-Ferar, we understand that practicing HCD is not without its challenges; there are many complexities to navigate along the way. But the challenges are worth facing to achieve long-term, positive outcomes — when products resonate emotionally with users, enhance their lives, avoid long-term harm, and help advance and support the communities they impact, they can drive growth, profitability and community benefits. If you’re interested in working with Sundberg-Ferar, please get in touch with us through our website

You can find the first post in the series here, and the second post here.