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What Does Design Have to Do With Digital Transformation? 

When people hear the word, “design,” they often conjure images of popular art, fashion, or home interiors brought to life by “creatives.” Design feels out of reach for many people, but the practice of human-centered design makes it widely accessible for more practical applications. Leveraging human-centered design in your digital transformation is a key tactic to ensure a successful project. 

Human-centered design, or design thinking, is at its core the act of designing solutions for real people. It’s not just about creating visual design or user interfaces that people enjoy. It is a repeatable process that leverages design principles and human insights to develop creative ways to address any problem. Popularized by the design firm IDEO, human-centered design involves an iterative problem-solving process built on four key principles:

  1. Solve the “right” problem. Before getting to the work of designing a new approach, product, or service, you have to understand the root problem you’re working to solve. Often when we see a problem to fix, our limited experience points us to symptoms of a much larger issue, and we miss the real challenge that needs to be addressed. Finding and fixing the root problem by conducting research and talking to real end-users ensures that you spend time and resources wisely.

  2. Focus on the people. Our society tends to be solution-focused. What technology will we use? What will the product look and feel like? But without thinking of all the people who will be impacted by the solution, our designs end up flawed from the start. How many products can you think of that have flopped or been scrapped because people choose not to, or truly can’t, use them? Throughout the design process, it’s critical to consider the people you are designing for and listen to their needs.

  3. Consider the entire system. You cannot design solutions in a vacuum. Every part of the user experience is interconnected, especially when it comes to the modern enterprise. Focusing on just one system or business process, such as timekeeping or onboarding, may solve one problem while generating two or three more. Instead, as you define and design your solutions, always keep the big picture in mind. How do these changes impact other components of the system, and how can the net effect be a positive one? This will help guide you toward a future state in which the overall employee experience has improved.

  4. Iterate and validate design decisions. No designer gets it right the first time (and by employing this process, you are a designer!). You will be working with imperfect or incomplete information as you work to bring human insights into the process. The most effective and efficient approach for creating a workable end product includes ideating and prototyping a variety of solutions, and testing them with real people. Above all, it is important to remember that you are not the end-user. Nothing can replace testing your product with real target users to gain insights about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be tweaked or redesigned.

Human-centered-design-process-graphicThe iterative and cyclical process of human-centered design


“The launch of the new system generated a lot of interest and buzz, not all of it positive. Many felt they were not included in the decision-making process, even though they were expected to use the system every day. Others were left wondering why the system duplicated functionality already available in other systems while not addressing the organization’s most pressing needs.”


Does any of this sound familiar? 

Embarking on a digital transformation project for your organization can be an exciting but risky undertaking. Getting it wrong can result in sunk resources, lost productivity, low morale, and a loss of trust in the organization's ability to execute projects of this scale. Taking a human-centered approach helps mitigate many (but not all) of the risks that can contribute to the project going sideways.

In any digital transformation, you’re dealing with three key ingredients: business processes, technology, and people. Each of these areas should be given relatively equal consideration, yet it’s often the people who get overlooked. By involving end-users as co-designers from the beginning, you’re solving for pain points and challenges that real people face in your organization while paving the way for a smoother transition to new ways of working.  

A human-centered approach has the added benefit of helping gather buy-in and shared understandings around expected outcomes. According to a McKinsey report on change management, “to feel comfortable about change and to carry it out with enthusiasm, people must understand the role of their actions in the unfolding drama of the company’s fortunes and believe that it is worthwhile for them to play a part.” Asking for user input on the change that needs to be made through interviews, focus groups, surveys, ethnography, co-creation workshops, and other tools for gaining insight helps people see where they fit into the long-term vision.

About Ideal State
Ideal State is a digital transformation consulting and advisory firm founded in 2016. We believe that anyone, from any department, and with any level of technology experience can lead a successful digital transformation project. Learn more  

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