Is Human-Centered Design Right for Your Company?

In lieu of a full-on innovation audit, this deceptively simple framework can help you diagnose your organization’s design bona fides in five short minutes. Go ahead and try it for yourself.


Human-centered design or HCD is here to stay. Buoyed by strong interest in design thinking, lean innovation and customer centricity (and the business value that good design generates), this holistic approach to developing and delivering new products, services and experiences has gained enduring acceptance among the most innovative companies in the world and those that wish to usurp them.

For the uninitiated, human-centered design is simply involving people throughout the problem-solving process. And, in most cases, this includes taking inspiration from end users (i.e. design thinking), iterating solutions with user feedback (i.e. lean innovation) and ensuring management and employee alignment toward satisfying the unmet needs of users (i.e. customer centricity).

Still, it’s difficult for many companies outside the innovation elite to tell if their HCD skills are up to snuff and, in case they aren’t, to begin the hard work of introducing and/or bolstering these capabilities in the organization.

While it would certainly help to approach an objective outsider, such as an innovation consultant (ahem!), to perform an innovation audit and build the business case and implementation plan for HCD, there are also readily observable signs that those with limited resources or exposure to HCD can leverage.

Below, we’ve organized these HCD markers into three dimensions – business situation, internal setup and ecosystem position – and included specific tell-tale symptoms that can be used as a checklist. In our experience, if at least one item under each dimension applies to a company, then HCD would be a worthy consideration. If three or more under each dimension apply, then HCD would be essential.

HCD can help a company in a business situation that can be described as follows:
◦ Sells offerings that are at risk of commoditization
◦ Is not growing or not growing fast enough
◦ Is in an industry with increasing competition
◦ Is in an industry experiencing an influx of disruption
◦ Has ambitions to gain or maintain industry leadership

HCD can help a company with an internal setup that can be described as follows:
◦ Has no in-house designers and researchers
◦ Has an engineering- or tech-focused culture
◦ Has undefined or untested innovation practices
◦ Has a structure that impedes cross-functional collaboration (i.e. siloed)
◦ Has a structure that impedes knowledge transfer, particularly with regard to customer understanding

HCD can help a company in an ecosystem position that can be described as follows:
◦ Uses platforms, resellers, distributors or other middlemen to reach end users
◦ Is a supplier or producer of a component or ingredient of a bigger offer
◦ Has innovation-related personnel who have limited access to users
◦ Is collaborating with multiple partners across the value chain
◦ Is not large or established enough to be safe from the actions of dominant industry players

Like other frameworks, the one above simplifies reality and sacrifices detail in favor of clarity, speed and ease of use. But, this HCD diagnostic tool is an appropriate first step for innovation newbies aiming to get the buy-in of other stakeholders in medium- or large-sized organizations. It combines critical thinking with existing company understanding to yield directionally useful conclusions. And, from our experience, to win over the relevant higher-ups in an initial exploratory meeting, it’s more than enough.

So, go ahead and try the HCD framework. And, if you find that human-centered design is right for your company, don’t fret. We can help you move forward.