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  • Writer's pictureMatt Arnold

Human Centered Design as a Map for Your Innovation Journey

Let Human Centered Design Be Your Guide

Human Centered Design (HCD) can serve as a map, or GPS, for your innovation innovation journey. Harnessing the powering of HCD will help you understand the needs and goals of your constituents. This post will help you stop struggling with inaccurate targets and misaligned teams.

While all companies want to be successful, many organizations grapple with where and how to improve business outcomes. Today’s business world is more interconnected than ever and its complexity continues to increase at dizzying speeds. Most companies retreat from uncertainty and rely on folklore - “we’ve always done it this way.” While there may be good principles in what made your business successful in the past, the context of business has changed, as have the expectations of your customers. Look to leverage your strengths and better understand your customers, so that you can reduce risk and drive growth. The reliance on folklore leaves organizations inside-out when it comes to understanding customers’ true needs and goals.

HCD helps organizations to be more effective at creating and capturing value. Creating value means that you have more effective and compelling value propositions for your customers. Capturing value means that you have the people, process, and tools to take advantage of the compelling value proposition that you’ve created for your customers.

Spark Consulting Group can help companies harness the power of human centered design, so that you can succeed in the Age of Experience. We believe that three complementary areas of focus that can help teams more accurately understand their market and more effectively align to make and keep compelling brand promises.

The three areas we focus are:

  • Human Understanding

  • Organizational Effectiveness

  • Brand Experience

HCD can serve as a map that will provide your organization with a more efficient and effective path to innovation. While the journey may not appear to be the most direct route, a human centered path will help you reduce risk and improve your chances of success in the Age of Experience.

Human Understanding: The Target

If your desired innovation journey is to improve business outcomes, the first place you need to focus is human understanding. Many jump to a potential solution without basing it in customer need. By human understanding, we focus on understanding the needs and goals of actors in your business ecosystem. These are often users, customers, and influencers (or cue-givers). Taking an intentional and thoughtful approach to research. Getting to insights about the people in your ecosystem, and understanding their goals will provide a North Star to keep you on a course to better business outcomes. This will help you cut through the noise of ever evolving customer expectations and reduce the churn associated with feature chasing. Feature chasing implies that your competition knows more about your customer than you do and it takes valuable time and resources away from developing features that help your constituents accomplish their goals.

Tips to Support Human Understanding

  • Research: Get out of the office and work to understand your constituents (users, customers, stakeholders), their needs, their goals, and the context in which they’re trying to achieve those goals.

  • Analyze and Synthesize: Spend time with your customer research findings to make sure you understand their perspective and you can explain that understanding with your team.

  • Desirability: Run small experiments to confirm desirability. Before getting too deep into a solution, confirm that it’s something your customer really wants or needs.

  • Don't Chase the Competitions Features: Be intentional about what you're delivering for your customers and how that creates value for them.

Organizational Effectiveness: Align and Empower Your Teams

If Human Understanding provides the target, Organizational Effectiveness drives alignment around those targets. Customer understanding will provide accurate targets on where to focus your innovation efforts. As you continue to gain and improve on your understanding of your constituents, make sure to address the people, process, and tools in your organization that are required to support your stakeholders.


Look at the people inside your organization and provide them with ways to understand and share insights about your customers. Help build effective teams and provide ways for knowledge sharing and continuous learning. This often requires addressing the culture of the organization and utilizing healthy change management practices. In the past, change management was often treated as a one-and-done proposition - we need to make this change now for stability in the future. However, change needs to be treated as a mindset. Help change the mindset and culture, so that the people in your organization are in the right roles, properly empowered, and avoid burnout. Work to have the right roles for folks and help them find the right seat on the bus. Just as human understanding and HCD is rooted in empathy. We need to practice empathy for the people within the organization.


Where and when possible, focus on process and outcomes rather than procedures. Do the current processes in your organization enable or constrain innovation or serve customers during their moments of truth? Too often, good customer service is inconsistent and requires heroics by an individual agent in the organization. Build supporting mechanisms to enable improved customer experiences. Additional process work should address the feasibility of new solutions (can we do it?) and ensure decision-making around viability of the changes (should we do it and does it make business sense?).


Tools and technology need to enable your processes, not drive them. When it comes to HCD improvements he tools and technology your organization uses should support communication, collaboration, and continuous learning. Make sure you have mechanisms in place to capture the value of your HCD focused changes.

Tips for Improving Organizational Effectiveness

  • Communication: Work on improving communication related to customer understanding. This includes reducing uncertainty, manage expectations, and generating enthusiasm for change. Take the time to communicate the context and intent of your changes.

  • Explain: Take the time to explain the results and implications of your customer research and desired outcomes.

  • Clarity: Be clear on the outcomes you want from you teams. Clear is kind. Oftentimes we talk past each other or lack clarity about what we’re doing, why it’s important, and how we can get there.

  • Avoid The Peanut Butter Approach: The peanut butter approach is when you continue to spread resources evenly across the organization. Instead, work to align around customer needs and goals can help more effectively and precisely deploy your resources.

  • Outcomes over Outputs: Take an outcomes focus and space to experiment

  • Internal Empathy: Empathy is at the heart of HCD, but often times we forget to practice empathy when it comes to others inside our own organization. Understand the goals and needs of your team members and find out what internal friction points get in the way of your team members being able to effectively serve your customers.

Brand Experience: Making and Keeping a Compelling Brand Promise

Brand experience is so much more than the look and feel of your website or marketing materials. The brand experience your company provides is a sum of all of the explicit and implicit promises you make to your customers at every interaction. It is where you tie together the Human Understanding and Organizational Effectiveness, working to maximize systems to create something valuable for your customers and capturing value for your organization. Human Understanding will help you communicate an effective value proposition to your constituents and help you focus on the things that really matter to your customers. The value that you promise needs to be grounded in your customers reality. Then you need to be there and support your customers when it really matters - during their moments of truth.

The moment of truth for your customers is when they really need your product or service. It is that need that compelled them to buy your product or service. Here’s an insurance example based on State Farm’s value proposition (“like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”). It’s easy to be neighborly for the agent to collect premiums. However, for the customer the moment of truth comes when their house has burned or their car has crashed. Will the company be present in the time of need and will the claims process feel neighborly?

As you design your brand experience, you must be able to effectively answer three simple questions:

  • How is your brand symbolically unique? Your answer needs to address what differentiates you from the competition and how that resonates with your market.

  • How do you ground that reality? Your answer needs to address how you make ground the brand in the customers’ reality and how you handle customer interactions and touchpoints -- focusing on the moments of truth.

  • Is it a profitable place to play? You answer needs to address how your company captures value after answering the previous two questions. This applies to for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Profit can be seen as value or margin

Tips for Improving Brand Experience

  • One Brand: You’re one brand to your customers. Customers don’t think about your internal silos. Build and keep your brand promises around what matters to them.

  • Moments of Truth: The moment of truth is where the rubber meets the road. It is why they have exchanged time and/or money with your company.

  • Address 3 Questions: Answer three questions - How is your brand unique? How do you ground that unique identity? Is it profitable?

  • Alignment: Make sure your brand experience is coherent and aligned for your customers across channels and touchpoints. Align your teams to deliver and keep a compelling brand promise for your customers.

Venn diagram of Spark Consulting Group's approach to creating and capturing value. The diagram highlights three areas: human understanding, organizational effectiveness, and brand experience.
Successful companies are able to address human understanding, organizational effectiveness, and brand experience to create and capture value.


Understanding the constituents in your ecosystem is imperative, if you company is to succeed in the Age of Experience. Leveraging human centered design provides a better way to focus and align to reduce risk and improve your probability of success in the future. Embracing a holistic approach should addresses Human Understanding, Organizational Effectiveness, and Brand Experience.

Contact us if you’re interested in how Spark Consulting Group can help you reduce risk, drive growth, and build and effective path towards company success.

If you're looking for more information on human centered design here are two videos to help. The first is how HCD serves as your innovation GPS.

The second is Don Norman discussing the principles of HCD.


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