Human Centred Design - putting customers at the heart of business

Published by Alexandra Lemacon
Bupa UK Customer Lab

02 September 2019 . United Kingdom

While once a differentiator and virtue of a forward-thinking organisation, Human Centred Design (HCD) is becoming a must. So, why is HCD important and how does this approach benefit businesses? 

People brainstorming with post-its

With consumers experiencing the benefits of a new era of technology - increasing convenience and an ever-smoother customer journey - new expectations and standards are constantly being set by the latest great thing they’ve seen or experienced. Human Centred Design is an approach that enables you to talk directly to your customers and really understand what it is they expect, want or need. It puts the customer at the core of the design process for developing a product or service or creating a solution to an issue, ensuring their changing expectations are being met.

What makes HCD different from other types of customer research is it involves generating a deep understanding of the people you are designing for from the very beginning of the process. HCD focuses on the customers’ problems, goals, needs, emotions and behaviour to come up with an effective design solution. The process consists of three phases – inspiration, where you immerse yourself in the end customers lives to really understand their needs; ideation, involves making sense of what you’ve learnt and identifying opportunities and possible solutions; and implementation, brings the end solution to life. As the customer has been involved with each phase and it is their perspective that has led the design process, businesses can feel confident they are going to market with a product or solution that is personalised to meet their needs.

Looking at the benefits at a basic level, we all remember and return to products and services with outstanding and unique design features. Apple, Amazon and Dyson are just some of the names that spring to mind. The design of Apple stores was revolutionary when the first opened. Everything Amazon does is customer centric and personalised, and Dyson creates products that are different and easy to use. Another business that I think has really captured HCD is Monzo Bank. Its sign-up process takes three minutes, is super easy and very user friendly. Its design just works.

But it’s not just about having a USP customers will be attracted to. Research recently conducted by McKinsey found a clear correlation between companies strong at design and performance. McKinsey outlines four themes of good design – analytical leadership, measure and drive design performance with the same rigor as revenues and costs; cross-functional talent, make user-centric design everyone’s responsibility, not a siloed function; continuous iteration, de-risk development by continually listening, testing, and iterating with end-users; and user experience, break down internal walls between physical, digital, and service design.

The companies rated by McKinsey as being good at design increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders substantially faster than their industry counterparts did over a five-year period. This held true in all three of the industries McKinsey looked at – medical technology, consumer goods, and retail banking - showing that the market really does reward companies that truly stand out from the crowd.

While McKinsey’s research showed the huge potential for design-driven growth in both product and service-based sectors, it also revealed more that 40% of the companies surveyed still aren’t talking to their end customer during development.

Here at Bupa, HCD has been at the heart of our design process for a number of years. We recognise the power of raw customer comments and feedback and the importance of having these at the core of our strategy and development for any product or service. In Australia, we conducted research among millennials which enabled us to create a product focused on their health and wellbeing needs. We have conducted similar wellbeing research in the UK. In the UK, we are also currently using this approach for several projects, including in our dental business, Bupa Global travel insurance product, and internally for our own employees when considering their health and wellbeing needs in the workplace and how Bupa as an employer can support this.

As with everything, HCD is constantly evolving. For me, this involves embedding the principles of HCD in everything we do. It’s only by truly understanding our customers that we can say ‘what’s the next version or new product we should launch?’. As HCD evolves, customer centricity will become the core of more and more companies and the new norm. I strongly believe that if a business is not customer centric at its core, it will struggle to survive.



Alexandra Lemacon

Bupa UK Customer Lab

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