When I first started working at Story+Structure, I would often have this conversation:

Friend: What is Story+Structure?
Me: It’s a human-centered design firm. 
Friend: (Blink, blink.) A human what? 
Me: A human-centered design firm. 
Friend: (Blink.) 
Me: (Smiling, slight encouraging nod.) 
Friend: (Slow smile.) OK, so what does that mean exactly?

It’s a fair question. At first, you could easily assume that as fellow humans, isn’t everything kind of human-centered, ie., designed for a person? Bicycles have pedals for two feet because humans have two feet, right? It seems as if it would be common sense, almost intuitive. But the crazy part when you stop to consider so much of what we create is that it’s not.

Yes, there are tools and systems in place that we, the people, can operate, but that does not mean that the associated experience is easy, pleasant, or even fully accomplishes its intended purpose. We have all experienced shortcomings in design, most times without ever recognizing them as design flaws.

I have a young daughter who is in the midst of potty training, and I have learned that many public bathrooms do not consider all humans — particularly small humans — in the design. It demonstrates a distinct lack of empathy for a specific community of people. Nothing says “This process needs refinement” like dangling your two-and-a-half-year old over a public potty. It’s a flawed customer experience. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all benefit from good, thoughtful, human-centered design in all our interactions?

This goes beyond design thinking. It requires a shift within us, as users, customers, and service providers that industry and technology exist to serve our needs — as a group, as individuals, as humans. We certainly have reached a point where adapting existing technology and resources, even creating new ones, is a reality. The benefits far outweigh the cost is most cases. Think about what this could do for your business if careful attention was paid to exactly how people interact with you — and then you curated an experience that meets those needs.

This shift is about facilitating interactions (apply them as you will to your world — leads, conversions, meetings, enrollment, funding… relationships), and about making the entire process more intuitive, warmer. Just as they would be in “old-fashioned” person-to-person contact. This is because they aim to recall real human emotions. A recently published study found that, by far, the longest lasting emotion we experience is sadness. The study, by Philippe Verdun and Saskia Lavrijsen of the University of Leuven in Belgium, explains that this is because we ruminate the failed experience and virtually re-live it in an attempt to “break it down” into pieces small enough to understand it. Imagine how the disappointment produced by these failed experiences impacts the potential growth of companies and institutions. Add to that the compound effect of how often they go unnoticed.

The Longest-Lasting Emotions:

I am now on my seventh month at Story+Structure, and it’s become much easier for me to answer the common “what does human-centered design mean?” question. At the firm, we look to eliminate these sad, failed experiences by focusing on design created for specific humans, to address specific needs — humans registering for a class, humans at work trying to complete a task — and in doing so, we get technology out of the way and enable organizations to create better experiences that meet needs, build trust, and create happy, satisfied customers. When you have happy people, they talk about it (joy is third on the list of long-lasting emotions). They share their experience and influence friends and family. They tweet. They “like” you on Facebook. They become ambassadors for your brand. Your reputation is greatly improved. There is hardly a better way to communicate value in your business than by first hand testimonials. Simply put, designing in a manner that is tailored to the people using the system or process makes good business sense.

As for my daughter, I promise to stay on task and make sure her pants stay dry.

Read more about the Motivation and Emotion study on PsyBlog.