From HCD to HBD and all the buzzing in-between.
Updated: Mar 3
I'm not what you’d call a UX’er, but I’ve spent the past decade pretty much surrounded by some of the best of them, marveling at their almost magical ability to solve and simplify complex business problems with the most elegant solutions. And then, on occasions, I’ve watched in disbelief as they’ve gone to great lengths to overcomplicate the hell out of something that was fine to begin with. Inspired on occasions, traumatised and driven to insanity on others.
With all the listening I’ve done, I’ve heard all the funky buzz words that seem to come with the territory, the latest victim being ‘Human Centred Design’. That’s right, not ‘User Centred’ or Led, Data or Insight Driven; which by the way is my favourite and probably the one to focus on - that’s a story for another day. Pretty sure I’ve also heard ‘People Centred’ and then there’s Lean UX, Atomic Design, Design Thinking, Service Design, Digital Business Design and probably 5 million other terms I’ve successfully managed to forget.
So, let’s go back around 10 years when I stumbled across the industry and joined Digitas, a Publicis groupe company previously known as LBi. It’s fair to say I was somewhat mesmerised by the glitz of all this UX speak and the plethora of creativity. New to the industry, I dived right in with an almost insatiable thirst to learn more. But it was really just one seemingly simple question I needed an answer for so I could engage in sensible business conversations with our prospects and close a few deals along the way.
My question to these impressive UX and creative folks was: Can you articulate simply, what you do and how it delivers business value to our clients? I pitched it to the discipline leads hoping for enlightenment. These leads are now the Chief Creative Officer at Accenture Interactive and Experience Design Director at Revonic, a leading Dubai based Agency. In short, they’re at the top of their game and super talented. They looked at me like I was on crack, as much to my surprise, there was no simple way of articulating that value. And don’t go thinking it was only creative and UX - I spent the next 3 months contacting people throughout our global network asking about CRM, Social and every other discipline I could find, hoping for the simple answers a relative newbie like me could bounce around in a conversation. Sure, I got there eventually, however, still to this day I’m asking similar questions and often get funny looks and long-winded answers that aren’t really all that helpful.
The latest question I find myself pitching to experts is – what is Human Centred Design (HCD)? And pretty much everyone gives me the same long-winded answer to the same question I had several years ago – what is User Centred Design?
I don’t get why people don’t just say, “I don’t bloody know mate, I’m just jumping on the buzz words sushi train and saying what every other trooper is saying.” What has changed is that everyone I asked seems to have a hipster haircut, one arm tattoo and trousers that are a tad too short for their skinny legs.
The reality is this, HCD is the same as UCD but with added emotional or psychological preferences.
There’s really no need to add confusion with a new term such as HCD, when we can simply update the UCD method instead. Experienced UX’ers have studied the emotional and psychological preferences under the UCD umbrella for a long while, so let’s not make out like it’s a whole new way of thinking; the new shiny thing that all brands must rally around.
Going back to my tried and tested approach of simply listening to what’s going on around me, I feel I’ve formed my own sensible point of view. I could be wrong but there’s no reason I can’t be right. I also did a bit of research in an effort to challenge my theory and still, I feel I’m onto something solid that might also be helpful to others who’ve been asking these same ‘simple’ questions.
If we take a step back and examine Human Design (HD) rather than HCD, the first thing we need to do is … forget. Forget about UX, Visual Design and everything else that’s related as it actually has nothing to do with any of it. Instead, ask yourself, what is the definition of ‘Human’ and what does it mean to be Humane? Go ahead and Google it: “A humane person is one who shows great compassion and caring for others, including animals, and who tries whenever possible to alleviate another's suffering. While the word is derived from the word human, the sad fact is that a person can be human without being humane”.
Designing with humanity in mind, surely, is far deeper and more meaningful than UX as we know it.
For me, it’s not about how you design a digital product, be it an App, Website or whatever. It’s a choice that a company makes to shift its brand, culture and ultimately its existence. It’s about a business becoming humane, to lead with compassion and work towards alleviating the suffering of others. To truly become a Humane business, a brand must re-visit its vision, mission and discover purpose in what they do. It must be a true business transformation from the core, shifting from money making machines to compassionate human beings, though this is no easy feat for large establishments (it wasn’t easy to make that line rhyme btw).
And so, if we are going to pursue a term that has the word human in it, it should not be HCD. in fact, it would be great if we can just stop saying it all together as it just adds confusion to an industry that gets paid to create simplicity.
Instead, I propose we rally around Human Business Design (HBD). In my mind, this really is an exciting shift in the way to approach the way humans experience a brand and its products and services, as it looks holistically at the brand rather than discreet interactions with their audience.
Be careful not confuse ‘being Humane’ and HBD with CSR and the donations companies make here and there. Also, don’t confuse it with gender equality, inclusion or diversity. They’re all great things but I’m starting to wonder how many companies do it out of love or just to comply with the latest trends and be seen to be ticking all the right boxes (not to mention the tax benefits).
What’s more, it’s far easier for start-ups and smaller organisations to be or become Humane than the established dinosaurs.
Here’s a couple of examples that stand out for me.
When we moved back to Sydney, my wife discovered a great brand that I believe got HBD right. ‘Who Gives A Crap’ - I’m not being rude as that’s their name, and I love it!
What makes WGAC human centred? They’ve designed and built their business around being human and humane. Their products are super environmentally friendly with their toilet paper made from recycled paper. But here’s the punch line, they donate a whopping 50% of their profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. What’s more is they raised the funds to start their business through crowd funding.
What could be more humane than complete strangers giving you their hard-earned cash to go do something great? I’ll tell you who - humane humans that give a crap. And yes, they also have a great website.
One more bonus example before I wrap up. Warby Parker, no relation to Peter Parker, apparently. They design and make designer eyewear. Did you know that the eyewear industry is dominated by a single conglomerate? That’s right, one company that rules them all. I’d tell you their name, but I might get my eyes poked out so go ahead and Google that one when you’re done reading my finely crafted work.
The guys behind Warby Parker decided to design and make eyewear with an affordable price tag without compromising quality. When they were students one of them lost his glasses on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing them was so high that he spent the first semester of grad school without them. They were amazed at how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn’t leave them broke, so they started Warby Parker to create a real alternative to the monopoly.
Where’s the HBD in all this? Firstly, they have purpose. They believe that everyone has the right to see and that cost should not be a barrier. They also partner with VisionSpring so that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. How awesome is that?! Imagine if every company in the world followed the buy one give one or 50/50 approach? There’s a good chance we’d eliminate much of the unnecessary suffering in the world, and that’s HBD how it really should be!
The wrap up:
1. HCD is actually just good ol’ UCD coupled with emotional or psychological preferences, so don’t let the new buzz word confuse you.
2. HBD is where the real opportunity is, not UX, as HBD encompasses brand, culture, purpose and a humane way of doing business.
3. To be a human centred business you must revisit the core of everything you stand for and have the guts to make a real change that delivers positive human impact. It’s big work but with a huge upside.
4. Try this at home – Define what humane means to your business, recreate your vision with it in mind, weave it into your brand principles, translate it into experience principles, create an action plan to make it happen.
In the meantime, go do something nice. Be compassionate, have fun but most of all be humane.
Until next time!
P.S. I'm working on a few slides people can use to start a conversation abut HBD within their business and with senior stakeholders. Please feel free to contact me if you would like a copy.
Roy Badawi, CEO - Founder