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7 Steps to Website Transformation with Human-Centered Design

Having engaged in Human-Centered Design Workshops for web development with amazing clients from every sector, our overarching discovery is this: great websites are made before a line of code is ever written.
Human-Centered Design work lays the groundwork for a vast expansion of transformative possibilities.

In its simplest terms, Human-Centered Design is a discipline directed toward solving problems for the people who actually use the site. The focus on the end user is a critical distinction that calls for everyone on the project to let go of their own preferences and empathetically focus on optimizing the experience for the user. 
When we engage in Human-Centered Design activities with clients, it becomes very clear very early into the process that removing assumptions and instead performing an in-depth inquiry into users and their needs, eliminates blind spots and opens doors with new insights about the concerns, goals, and relevant behaviors of the people for whom we are developing sites. 

And while Human-Centered Design is generally viewed as a discipline for solving problems, we find it to be much more of a roadmap for creating opportunities.
Here’s our 7-step Human-Centered Design process for creating optimal web experiences.


1.    Build empathy with user personas

The first and most essential question: For whom are we building or redesigning this site? We work with clients to identify their most important personas. Each persona gets a name and that’s helpful in keeping us constantly focused on the fact that real people will be interacting with the site in many different ways. 

Following the identification of the key persona groups, we proceed to dig deep, asking “why” and “how” concerning every aspect of their motivations and expectations.


2.    Assess what user personas need from your site

Understanding of and empathy for user personas dovetails into an analysis of how they currently use the site, how that experience can be improved, and how enhancing their experience with the site can drive a deeper relationship. 

We continue to refine and build upon these personas during every phase of the development process, asking questions that reflect back on them by name as we gain an increasing level of empathy. As a result, our shared understanding of the needs and concerns of our persona groups helps to direct development and design with questions such as:

  • “Will this page navigation be clear enough for Clarence?”
  •  “How else can we drive home the point for Catherine that we are an efficient, one-stop-shop for the full spectrum of her financial needs? 

This level of inquiry at the front end might feel excessive or out of sync with what many are accustomed to. Invariably, however, establishing a shared language streamlines development moving forward, while laying the groundwork for solutions that meet the needs of users. 

As Tom Gilb, noted in Principles of Software Engineering Management, getting it right at the beginning pays off. According to Tom, fixing a problem discovered during development costs 10 times as much as addressing a problem in the design phase. If the problem is not discovered until the system is released, it costs 100 times as much to fix. 


3.    Map their journey through the site to key conversions

Just as your user groups do not all fit the same mold, what they are looking for from your site will vary, depending on what phase they are in relative to their relationship with your organization – what we refer to as the user journey. 

Too often, website design focuses on one aspect of the user journey. It needs to be viewed holistically.

For example, if the purchase process is complicated and cumbersome, efforts to successfully provide users with the right information delivered in the right format at the start of their journey runs the risk of unraveling. 

4.    Identify obstacles in their path

Next step: identify challenges. We map user journeys through every phase, aiming for seamless transitions from one phase to the next.

This step calls for continuous inquiry along with a commitment to not defend or hold on to assumptions or previous solutions that may not be optimal.

  • What have we heard from clients? 
  • Where have breakdowns occurred in conversions and in relationships?
  • How can we fix it with the messaging, design, or the functionality of the website?  


5. Brainstorm solutions

Participants are primed at this point for an explosion of ideas. Mindsets are in an empathetic mode and insights have been collected from multiple angles. 

Now is the time to tap into this energy.

We Invite all participants to contribute ideas, setting the basic ground rules for brainstorming. 

Good ideas spark more good ideas and excitement about new possibilities.


6. Prioritize solutions 

There are no bad ideas in brainstorming, but in the real world of budgets and time, questions such as “how,” “what’s the cost,” “where to begin,” and “what will have the best impact,” need to be considered. 

As ideas are synthesized, these answers will begin to take shape.  

Real world prioritization happens as we clarify whether a client’s objectives will be best met with the development of a new site or revisions to an existing site. Do we want to move forward with “Blue Sky” development that is not grounded in any specific constraints, or a “Greenfield” project that it not required to integrate with current systems?

What does the playing field look like?

7. Create a roadmap for development

Too often, web design and development begins at this step. 

With Human-Centered Design many hours, if not days, of research, persona development, empathetic insights, journey mapping, solution gathering, collaborative energy, and excitement about what’s to come have already been invested when we get to this point. 

As a result, clients have the advantage of moving forward with a high degree of alignment among stakeholders, along with a conviction of ownership in an outcome that will be new, and enhance both the experiences and relationships with the humans who rely on the site. 

Want to ensure that humans are at the center of your next design or development project? That’s what we do (among other things). Contact us today