Human (aka Customer) Design Thinking


Customer Centric Design

I had the pleasure of attending CXPA’s Toronto Local Network event on Human Design Thinking this past week.


The CXPA, or Customer Experience Professionals Association, dedicated to cultivating the Customer Experience profession and through their local networks, regularly host events to advance the knowledge amongst the industry’s professionals.


Run by a dedicated group of CX professionals, the Toronto local chapter headed up by Derek Bildfell, focused on Human Design Thinking for this month’s event.


Hosted onsite at Manulife’s offices, the event consisted of two parts: an overview and interactive workshop on the concept of human design thinking, followed by a review of how Manulife employed design thinking to make significant improvements to some pertinent business problems and create a CX playbook for ongoing use to solve business problems.


Human Design Thinking


Design thinking expert, Jake Deutsch, Innovation Enablement Lead at LOFT (Lab of Forward Thinking) at Manulife/John Hancock, set us up to understand human design thinking by first running through the 6 key mindsets involved, followed by a series of interactive activities representing the 5 steps of design thinking to solidify our comprehension.


Jake’s opening point was that we tend to fall in love with a solution versus the problem.


When this happens, we are already off defining a solution without fully understanding the user’s problem and thus typically come up with solutions that do not quite hit the mark.


In order to deliver solutions that actually meet the user’s needs, we need to embrace the problem and understand the user.


But understanding the user often involves ambiguous problems such as “make the customer happy”.


This is where human design thinking comes into play to powerful effect.


Human design thinking is a creative approach to problem solving which comes up with solutions to problems by first understanding the user (aka human aka customer).


IDEO, an international design firm and thought leader in the design thinking realm defines human-centered design as follows:


Human-centered design is a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.

Consistent with that definition, Jake shared the six key mindsets to remember when applying human design thinking towards problem solving. 


Human design thinking is:

  1. Human centered

  2. Biased toward action

  3. Involves radical collaboration

  4. Includes a culture of prototyping

  5. Ensures that designs are shown not sold (i.e. “show don’t tell”) and

  6. Mindful of the process (working this way is not easy, thus consideration needs to be given when going through this process)


With a conceptual understanding of the key mindsets in hand, Jake lead us through the five steps of design thinking by having us go through them.


We were given the ambiguous problem of “improving the breakfast experience” and worked in groups to go through the five steps of human centered design: empathy, define, ideate, prototype and test.


Interestingly, by digging into what was important to the user around breakfast we found out it had much less to do about food than what the user truly valued such as being with family and friends, good health and time.


As a result, we ended up designing more innovative solutions to meet the needs of the users that we were designing for.


Jake was really effective at driving home the idea that human design thinking is all about embracing the problem and understanding the user.


Manulife Human-centered Design Pilot Program


Following the interactive workshop, Natasha Renaud, Director Customer Experience, Corporate Strategy at Manulife shared with us how they piloted a program to demonstrate the business effectiveness of human design thinking in solving existing business problems.


Manulife was looking to implement human design thinking into the organization but had no way of quantifying what the value of doing so would be.


In an effort to get approval to define a standardized design thinking approach that could be used throughout the company, Manulife decided to pilot a 90-day program which would solve current business problems, measure the results of the solutions to justify a design thinking methodology, and then codify the process into a CX playbook.


The pilot program was launched as a global competition amongst Manulife’s five regions, with each team being assigned a very specific problem from their region, to see who came up with the best solution.


The brilliance of this concept was that while solving five major business challenges, Manulife was also able to prove the effectiveness of design thinking and codify the process into a repeatable standard to be used on an on-going basis, the latter of which is ultimately what they were looking to accomplish in the first place.


In the end, not only did the company have a lot of fun around this (the five continental teams presented to the entire company in a global live broadcast with employees cheering on their constituents), they were also able to demonstrate the ROI of a design thinking approach to solving business problems and document that process in a CX playbook that the entire company now uses.


A very interesting use case indeed!


As someone who employs customer centric design thinking in the work I do with my clients, I found it fascinating to see how companies in other industries are approaching this.


Bottom line


Human design thinking is a very effective and powerful approach to defining innovative solutions to real life problems.


Rather than falling in love with the solution, we need to genuinely understand the user and their problem.


Only then can we deliver experiences that wow the customer, hit the mark and deliver the business outcomes that they are looking for.


Using the six key mindsets and the five steps of design thinking to guide us, a company can invent solutions that are centered around the very needs the customers are looking to have met.


Solutions designed with the human (aka customer) in mind hit the target (i.e. desired outcomes of the customer) more precisely, are more innovative, deliver better customer experiences and are more efficient for the vendor to deliver.


Humans are not the problem; their problems are the solution!

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