When I launched my own startup, BloomBox Design Labs, to increase access to STEAM education to young women worldwide through transportable computer labs, I decided to research famous founders like Reed Hastings from Netflix and Steve Jobs from Apple. One thing most successful companies have in common is that their trajectories were fueled by a design-thinking framework that kept their user experiences at the forefront.
3 Tips for a a Human-Centered Design Process
- Empathize with your users.
- Ideate potential solutions, build a prototype and test your solution with your user in mind.
- Iterate relentlessly.
Human-centered design requires challenging everything we think we know about what the world needs. It challenges us to constantly learn and to be thoughtful. It takes a lot of humility to realize we might not always have the answers.
Here, distilled in three steps, is how to apply a human-centered, design-thinking approach to business.
1. Empathize With Your Users
The first and most important step in human-centered design is to be inspired, or, as Simon Sinek has pointed out, to “Start with why.” An inspiring why is a solid foundation for any enterprise and one that will fuel you past self-doubt and adversity.
The best why is one that addresses a human need or challenge. If there is a problem that keeps you up at night, pursue its solution with all your energy, but take the time to understand its causes first, as well as the people affected by it.
When something tugs at your heart, learn as much as you can by reading, listening to podcasts, and asking questions. For me, it was the complex and multifaceted problem of lack of access to quality education for 130 million girls around the world. I was in middle school when I first learned about this, and my heart broke. No matter how many questions I asked, there was no clear answer, and new questions kept coming up because there was no justification for the situation. Inequity in education was not justifiable. This became my lifelong “why,” and led me to take action.
Remember, listen more than you speak, be sensitive, and remain curious and thoughtful. Do this right, and authentic solutions will begin to appear.
2. Ideate Potential Solutions, Build a prototype and Test Your Product With Your User in Mind
Once you have immersed yourself in a human challenge, you will be inspired and ready to ideate. This is perhaps the most creative and fun part of the design thinking process. Think big and add your unique perspectives, talents and work to devising solutions — even ones that may seem outside the box. Those are often the ones that make breakthroughs.
Breaking down the problem you want to solve into tangible parts, and having fun with the creative process can have phenomenal real-world effects. I started my company with a foam model of what I wanted our team to build.
I knew I wanted to take a design-thinking approach to bringing high-quality STEAM education to girls in Africa. I assembled a small team, and we got started. We knew anything we built in Vancouver would have to be shipped across the world, so we opted to use the shipping container as the structure of the classroom. The vision was to support indoor and outdoor learning, with a high tech classroom under a sweeping solar roof. This required keeping in mind how the unit would be utilized throughout the year and across all weather.
Starting with a design, we were able to drill deeper into what was viable and how we could better serve our users. This led to creating a solar lab that could power a 3 kW system in the dark, rainy days of mid-November. We shipped the lab to Malawi and built it out at a vibrant high school in Blantyre.
We’ve since built three functioning computer labs and a patented retractable roof system. Each lab is refined to account for new challenges observed at every installation.
But it doesn’t stop there. An end-user-centered design approach requires constant feedback. We issued frequent monthly surveys to students using and interacting with the prototype design. These surveys included questions like:
- What’s your favorite subject?
- What do you need more of in the lab?
- What do you wish you could explore more deeply?
By issuing monthly surveys, we’re able to better design future labs, and tailor current lab experience to the student experience.
3. Iterate Relentlessly
Every year, Apple releases a newly updated iPhone, and people around the planet flock to buy it — but why is this? Apple’s ability to study and analyze, and even anticipate, customer’s needs, enables them to make a better and better product that is closer to being perfectly responsive to a user’s every move.
Once you create something in the world, your journey is just beginning. This is the time to do what you do but even better. So, never settle and be resilient.
Based on the needs of students and educators, we have gone through three iterations of the BloomBox labs, each becoming more transportable and secure than the last, to address new challenges and encompass our learning from students, educators and diverse environments. Now, we are set to scale these labs around the world to address disparities in girls’ access to education.
The students at the labs also gave us a new idea: to create a global community of STEAM superstars. We needed a way for students across the planet to ask big questions that extend beyond the curriculum and collaborate on solutions. To accomplish this, we have created a social media platform that enables students to create and post short videos of the things they are learning that have captured their imaginations. It is fun to see the labs — and, hopefully soon, the social media app — create ripple effects of design thinking in the students who use them.
Why Human-Centric Design Never Ends
All the steps that have gotten BloomBox Design Labs to this point were guided by student experience, going back to the drawing board and responding to new and unimagined problems through design innovation. I have so much to learn from the people that I have been privileged to work with and serve.
I hope that one day, BloomBox Design Labs might blast off exponentially by preserving our core ideals, and keeping the phenomenal humans who use our product front and center for every design decision.
Ultimately, be intentional about placing human experience at the center of your creative explorations. In doing so, we collectively have a better chance at living in a more inspiring, cohesive and well-designed world.