Human Centered Design (HCD) has become a technology industry buzz word over the past decade. Since Don Norman and IDEO brought the term to the mainstream, companies have advertised their use of HCD in their product development process. Too often however, product timelines, competition, and staffing priorities shift the focus towards delivering a product as quickly as possible with little consideration for the end user. As Don Norman puts it in his book The Design of Everyday Things, the only way to overcome these competing priorities is for a company to always be practicing HCD. In other words, companies and organizations should always have researchers and designers “in the field” understanding their company’s products and how end users use them. One model that Softrams has embraced is training the workforce at large to understand the principles of HCD such that teams can implement and continually integrate HCD principles into product development and internal problem-solving.
Softrams conducts a monthly Design Challenge Training for employees to learn and practice these Human-Centered skillsets. During these trainings, we focus on internal company challenges and conduct two, two and a half hour workshops. The first day of the Design Challenge Training focuses on Discovery: empathizing with the end user and conducting research to understand their needs and pain points. For this, participants can conduct interviews with co-workers, complete personas, user journey maps, empathy maps, or any type of activity that helps them to understand the problem from the perspective of who’s affected by it. Day two focuses on exploring possible solutions: building something, whether that be a pitch, a solution framework, or a concept poster, and having fellow training participants evaluate their approach. This provides teams with immediate feedback on which they can iterate their proposed solutions. For example, past Design Challenge Trainings have explored how Softrams conducts IT security patching, interviews potential candidates, and onboards new employees to the company.
In addition to teaching the workforce about Human Centered Design and its use as a problem-solving framework, Softrams conducts Design Challenge Trainings to prepare workforce members to participate in federal Design Challenges. The federal government conducts Design Challenges to assess a company’s ability to problem solve, think on their feet, and deliver a solution. Think of it as a mini sprint where teams are handed a problem statement, do research, and develop solutions, all while being observed by federal agencies.
This way of problem solving and solution development utilizes the HCD framework that Softrams Design Challenge Training participants are exposed to: discovery, exploration, building, and evaluating. This framework is applied to Challenges and enables product development teams to understand their users, quickly explore and learn from multiple solutions. Training our workforce to think and problem solve in this manner is crucial to developing a culture that embraces building better products and services for our end users.
Hosting these Design Challenge Trainings internally allows our workforce to be exposed to HCD and Design Thinking problem solving methodologies. It provides employees an opportunity to flex these muscles prior to participating in a Federal Design Challenge. Additionally, we’re tackling challenges that exist in the Softrams organization by having employees with various backgrounds and skillsets swarm on a problem and generate solutions. We are training our workforce, giving them a problem-solving toolbox to bring back to their teams and tackling real problems that exist within our organization – that sounds like a win-win-win to me!