The world is changing at breakneck speed, so are the problems and the needs of people. Undoubtedly, innovations and tailor-made solutions are necessary, but practising a human-centred design (HCD) process is just as important. EAST site’s Chrispin Mwakideu spoke to Kipkorir Kirui, a Technology specialist, HCD expert, and trainer at the Innovators in Residence programme. Kirui defines what HCD is and offers three reasons why it is essential to your media innovation and organization.

In your own words, how would you define human-centred design?

Human-centred design (HCD) is a mindset. It’s a way of seeing the world and how you solve the problems in the world. Traditionally, we have always used a top-down approach to anything. Starting from individuals to large corporations, we typically use a solution to problem mindset where you spend quite a bit of time working on something and then launch it hoping that it would solve a specific problem in the world. We start with a solution and then look for a problem it can solve. We allocate most of the budget to marketing a solution hoping to convince customers that it is a good product or service to purchase. During the development of the product/service, at no point do you go out and interact with the people whose problem you are trying to solve. As a result, we waste a lot of resources that could have done better things because we end up building something that only works for the person creating it.

According to Kirui, Human-centred design is a creative approach to problem-solving that starts with people and ends with tailor-made innovative solutions that meet their needs

Human-centred design is a creative approach to problem-solving that starts with people and ends with tailor-made innovative solutions that meet their needs. The term people refers both to end-users/customers and other stakeholders you need to deliver your innovation. It is an effort to get back to where we encourage you to co-create and build with the people facing challenges before developing and launching anything. At the heart of HCD is understanding the problems better, not from your perspective but the user’s perspective. Once you have a better understanding, you can then go ahead and generate ideas that you validate with the same people.

The HCD process comprises three steps namely inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

During the inspiration phase, we are looking to understand better the people we are designing for. We typically do this by conducting both qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative research can be in the form of field visits and focus groups. Quantitative analysis can be in the form of surveys. This phase aims to understand the needs (met and unmet), hopes/wants, and constraints of the end-users in relation to the solution you have in mind.

During the ideation phase, you are looking to generate tons of ideas to solve the priority problems from ideation, identify the best ideas/opportunities to design further, test with users, and refine based on feedback. During this phase, you get to employ a hybrid brainstorm approach (silent first, group brainstorming after), create prototypes, and test concepts with users. Once the ideation phase – an idea that users have tested – is complete, you move to the implementation phase.

The implementation phase is what most of us are familiar with, and we typically start here. It is logical to most of us as it is the stage where we make our concept real. In HCD, during the implementation phase, you will work on the road to market plan. This phase involves the traditional activities you conduct when launching a new product or service. Internally, you will need to secure buy-in from stakeholders and get the budget you need.

Here are three reasons why it is crucial to cultivate a human-centred design culture

  1. It’s a way to solve problems. You can use HCD to solve any problem in your life, community, or the world. By focusing on people, HCD ensures that your innovation is not just about you, the innovator, but it puts the users (community, society) at the heart of the invention. Moreover, you tailor the solutions to meet the specific needs by engaging the users throughout the process. For example, we have used HCD to design innovative solutions to improve drought resilience in Marsabit and Garissa in Kenya. By observing pastoralist communities’ way of life, their educational background, and their needs based on the problems they experience, a fancy new mobile app may not offer the kind of long-term solution they are hoping for. Any interventions parachuted in will only last for a short period or entirely fail. By supporting innovators and imparting HCD knowledge, they could identify significant community challenges and develop appropriate sustainable solutions. The solutions ranged from hay storage, milk value addition, to the provision of accurate and timely weather information.


  1. For journalists and editorial boards, HCD is crucial to understand the people’s mindset, mind frame, and environment. This knowledge helps to adjust adequately to the changing needs of the users. Journalists and content creators can’t understand the needs of the community based on assumptions. Once media practitioners build a culture of continuously interacting and understanding who they are serving, the media house will be better positioned to succeed. Being design-centric as an organization has a direct positive impact. You will make more money because you create content that your customers want to consume.

  1. The human-centred design process is a repeatable and scalable way to quickly and cheaply validate ideas and then pick on the promising ones. The traditional journey used in innovation is; first, you have an idea, invest a lot of time and effort into it, and then launch it later in the hope that it works out. Instead of guessing quite a bit, the human-centred design gives you a guide. It’s a toolbox that offers you options and what you can do to improve and develop your idea—for example, better brainstorming in an organization. The HCD process has a specific way of brainstorming. The approach is meant to help more voices be heard, have more inclusive conversations that lead to more ideas. Another way is to encourage more people to talk to customers. Ultimately, HCD is a toolbox containing multiple tools you can pick out, show your team how to use them, and ensure it becomes best practice. After that, you can introduce more structured approaches like training sessions. Within a year or two, depending on the size of your company, you will have a human-centred working culture.

About the Author

Author ProfileChrispin Mwakideu
The author works as an editor, moderator and planner at the Africa desk of the international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

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