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When writing for humans, it helps to think like one

What is human-centered design, and why should you care?

Suppose you want to come up with a new way to engage your site visitors and attract more of them. You could lie on the couch and hope to dream up a genius idea... or you could try human-centered design.

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It's taught by innovative institutions such asIDEO and the Stanford Design School and is often used to design new products.

But it's not just for designers. Publishers like you can use human-centered design to understand what audiences want and create new content to match. Why not give it a try?



The steps go like this:

1. Empathize: Observe, engage, and immerse

To get started, look at your users’ behavior and think about why they behave that way.
  • Meet some of your users and watch what they do with your content.
  • Engage with them. Ask them why they read or watch your content. Try to uncover their needs. 
  • Immerse yourself in their experience however you can. Try to discover the emotions that guide their behaviors. Which specific users do you want to create new content for?
Let's say we have a blog focused on the millennial generation and their interests. By meeting and talking with our audience, we learn that a small but growing group of young professional women find our blog really valuable. We decide to focus on this audience.

2. Define: Focus and paraphrase

What is the main user need? Based on what you've heard and learned, create a problem statement. It should look something like this:

"Young professional women need to know more about how to advance their careers, because they aspire to move into management roles."

This is a good problem statement because it:
  • Targets a clear cohort of users.
  • Addresses a specific need.
  • Is something you can take action on.

3. Ideate: Explore

Now it's time to explore as many possible ideas as you can think of. Here are some key ideas for brainstorming:
  • Be prolific. Go for a high quantity and wide variety of ideas.
  • Be positive. Use the mantra "Yes, and" to build ideas on top of each other.
  • Be patient. Don't interrupt yourself or critique ideas as you think of them. You can judge them later.
Use guiding questions. For instance, "How might we…"
  1. Connect relatable role models with our young professional women readers?
  2. Give them useful strategies for managing up?
  3. Address the biases women may face in the workplace? 
4. Prototype: Create

Now you're ready to start building. Choose your best idea and build as many prototype solutions as you can. Prototypes can be things like:

  • Post-it notes
  • Role playing
  • Storyboards
  • Objects

Use any prototype you like, as long as it's something you can show to test users to judge their reactions.  For our blog, we might:

Create a video interview with female executives and transcribe it for the blog.

Go to a conference on women in leadership and post notes on conversations we have there.

Present data that shows how progressive companies have tried to address the problem and what can be implemented at smaller companies. 

Hold a Google Hangout and invite readers to join in and talk with a guest speaker.

5. Test: Experiment, refine

Now you're ready to take things back to your target users again. Show them your prototypes and once again observe, empathize, and immerse yourself in their experience. Ask for feedback. Listen. Then use what you hear to refine the prototype. Refine and repeat as necessary.

You'll need patience for this creative problem-solving approach. But when you're done, your ideas will be stronger because they grow from the needs of your users. The more you get to know your audience, the better you can anticipate their needs and adjust your content strategy to engage them in the future.

We hope you find this new thinking useful whenever you design something new. Let us know what you think about the human-centered design in the comments below.

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