Article Digital Transformation
14 June 2024

Why human-centred design is just a reminder of where to place your focus

Customer experience focuses on 'customers', human-centred design tells us that we should focus on the people who make up your customer base and look past the categories that we try and neatly slot them into. But is human-centred design focused on the right principles or is it just an industry buzz-phrase?

Human-centred thinking isn’t a new concept, but we’ve noticed a growing use of the terminology over the last year.

At our Health + Wealth event on the 18th of April in London, many financial services speakers spoke about applying a human-centred mindset to optimise their business performance, their product performance and change their organisational reputation.

So, what is human-centred movement, and what is human-centred design? Is it just a buzzword that someone coined at a conference and lots of people adopted, or is it more than that?

The term is almost unavoidable in the world of innovation management and digital design. So, let’s examine it.

What is Human-Centered Design?

‘Human-centred’ is the terminology used to describe an approach employed in design and innovation, made up of the following ideas:

  • You should prioritise the needs of human beings over the development of technology in response to business needs
  • You should employ behavioural psychology to understand the people who engage with your products and services
  • You should research diverse, inclusive groups to understand much more about the people behind the engagements
  • You should avoid reducing people down to their function as a particular demographic or cohort
  • You should see people as humans… and not as consumers or customers

Alongside the above statements, the ‘human-centred’ movement is used to justify deploying more qualitative and explorative research methods, prioritising these over the more objective, analytical, quantitative techniques.

Some of the above are incredibly well-meaning and can be very fruitful for your ways of working… And is a solid foundation for how any design and innovation management should be approached.

However, some of it is problematic.

The Problem with Human-Centred Design?

It makes complete sense why businesses may be drawn to the term, as it allows them to reconnect with the reason they started their service and/or product operation in the first place… the needs of actual human beings.

Establishing frameworks and models to try to orient our work towards values and principles matters. They focus our attention and set our intentions to ensure we don’t let our principles slip.

However, ‘human-centred’ has some problematic areas like any other industry-coined and applied term.

First, it is somewhat ridiculous when speaking about products and services, as who else would you be designing and developing for? So, to be human-centred is a given regardless of whether you are creating for business processes or consumer applications; the person who will use it will be just that—a person.

Second, it emphasises understanding individuals predominantly through qualitative research, which we know is fraught with peril. People lie, misunderstand, misrepresent, and are easily swayed when in conversation. The idea that ‘hard data’ dehumanises people is inaccurate and inexact, as sometimes the hard data tells you more about the person you are dealing with than the interview.

Thirdly, its proliferation in the business zeitgeist could be argued to be less about genuine purpose-led care and more about leveraging a ‘catch-all’ buzzword for virtue signalling and for ‘washing’ your business practices. By suggesting you are ‘Human-centred’ whilst your business makes decisions optimised for anything but those who engage with your services.

Having said the above, the broad tenets are both well-intentioned and well-meaning.

So, should you use them or not?

Are we human-centred or what?

Anyone who designs and builds things builds them for people… and people are humans.

So it’s not that it needs to be changed or erased from history; it just shouldn’t come with as much baggage as it does. Any designer knows what they want to do: create products and experiences that help people complete tasks that are important to them in an engaging, efficient, secure, and ethical way.

People’s behaviours and collective programming are the culture. We have unique personalities, are diverse, and are steeped in references from our communities. So, it’s pretty clear what human-centred thinking is. It affirms that we will always focus on the people who will benefit from our design and development.

Whether that is employees, suppliers, partners or customers, we will always try to focus on what makes them different and unique as much as we focus on what makes them demographically similar.

We will build things that remember that people have different abilities, needs, and cognitive patterns… Most of all, we will try our utmost not to generalise or be reductionist.


So, ‘human-centred’ is both a buzzword and a strong manifesto for better design principles.

According to our conversations over the last few months, it is fast becoming part of the lexicon for financial services businesses. Driven by a generational push for fairness and transparency, this shift is about doing business in a way that puts people first. Whether you use the terminology or not, the businesses that really live the ‘human-centred thinking’ value will lead the pack.

They’ll be the ones we likely talk positively about, trust, and stick with as the world changes.

So, be you a human-centred designer or just a designer, keep doing it for the people!

If you’re keen to explore how your business can adopt a design and innovation management style like the one we discuss in this article, get in touch. We’d love to help.

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Blair Walker
Blair Walker
Head of Marketing