What Human Resources can learn from user centered design

When I met with Christine McLeod the other day to tell her about my new product, I never thought it would lead to me talking about how user centered design could be adopted as an HR philosophy… but hey, thats the excitement in chatting with Christine! You never know where her energy will lead you.

My background is in user centred design (UCD). I have spent the past 14 years designing successful software products by ensuring that I identify who the user is, engage them to understand what they want, and include them in the design process so that validation occurs early and often.

Now, I know this might seems like common sense to some of us, but it has not always been the case.  There was a time when customer facing functionality was defined and designed by business management and engineers.

The business mandated functionality that they “thought” people needed, and the engineers built it in a way that they them selves would want to use.

The problem of course is that the business people and engineers rarely represented the actual people who were using the product which led to products being developed that were no where near what the customers wanted or expected.

By first figuring out who your target users are, then actually engaging them in the design process you can actually build something that they will want to use and will be effective at using. This concept has been widely adopted in terms of product design, but what about by the rest of the business organization.

Just today I read a review of Stephen Denning’s book The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century. The book talks about shifting managerial focus from pleasing bosses to delighting customers.

It also talks about creating a culture of candid conversations where the truth is welcomed no matter how negative it may be. Both of which are right inline with a user centred philosophy, or a “customer” centred philosophy in this context. Create dialogue with the people you are trying to service and really listen, don’t be afraid to be wrong, don’t try and steer the conversation, let them speak and learn from what they are saying.

If we consider the user centred design philosophy as a way to run the business and agree that customers hold the answer to our tough business decisions, then perhaps the same can be true for employees. Perhaps businesses also need to move focus to listening to the employees as a means of defining company culture, because lets face it, a culture defined by the owners, executives or managers is really just the same as a product defined by business. Shouldn’t the employees have a voice in the definition and evolution of the company and its culture?

In all these cases there is a common theme of engaging with a user, or a customer, or an employee. How does one go about that? What are the tools available to reach out to customers and engage them in conversation? Well this goes back to the original reason Christine and I met this week, which was to discuss our new product called Tiipz.

Tiipz was conceived recently when my business partner and I started to move our business away from services and more towards development of in-house products. We looked at our own company as a source of inspiration when deciding on a type of product to build. By looking at our own “pain points” we quickly realized that the market and customer research that we always relied on was time consuming and expensive. We knew there had to be a new way to engage customers that was fast and cost effective and we turned to social media for the answer and this is how Tiipz was born.

We truly believe that the key to success will be in listening to and participating in conversations with our respective audiences and we hope that Tiipz will make it that much easier for companies to do that. I am keen to explore more about how this philosophy can be applied to other aspects of the business and expect I will have many more enlightened conversations with Christine on the topic.

Jason Cyr, Co-Founder & CEO of Tiipz.com

Jason has been working in user-centered design and web development for over a decade. His background spans across interconnecting roles of development, design and usability, a benefit that has enabled him to become a strong advocate for the user centered design process. He has successfully managed teams of interaction designers and developers working for companies such as RSA Security Inc and Fiver Media, and has operational business experience as co-founder of Pareto User Experience Group, a successful user experience services company that has been operating since 2008.

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