It’s challenging for large enterprises to keep up with  smaller nimble start-ups that disrupt industry. They use a human-centred design approach to create products that speak to their customers’ needs. Millions are invested into innovation teams that are mandated to develop internal capability to innovate and experiment with new ideas. Too often they fail and it is no surprise that 500 Start-ups (the incubation programme) reported that 81% of the corporate innovation programs have failed. They attribute the failure to the big companies being too slow, disorganised and too conservative with their approach to innovation.

End users need to see the value of a product by it’s meaning. Their daily lives should be easier by using these digital products. Key ingredients for a successful products are human-centred techniques to create meaning for end-users. The Abalobi fisherman’s app is transforming the small scale fisheries by connecting the fishermen with restaurants that allows them to connect with the market. As a result, their co-creating has created meaning for the fishermen. Who fish sustainably and improve their livelihood. Consequently, restaurants can receive the type of produce they need knowing it comes from responsible fishing methods. Researchers also benefit from the collection of data from the fishermen.

To create meaning for customers is not a simple task and requires a deep human centred design approach. IDEO, the leaders in design thinking have proved that this approach of designing for humans is easily accessible to all innovators and designers. Creating successful and commercially viable products in the corporate innovation context requires experimentation and  small iterative steps. This provides insights and learnings that build the product features into meaningful tools that can go straight to market.

Here are some practical steps to the human-centred design approach:

Observe your audience

A perfect place to start is to immerse yourself in their lives and communities. This gives you the opportunity to get to know your audience and understand the people you are trying to solve the problem for. You should be collecting information about their pain points, daily tasks, goals and aspirations, behaviours and influences.

Playing with ideas

This is the fun part, you get to brainstorm ideas with your team and draw on the learnings from your immersion exercise. In this phase you want to create as many ideas as you can. While you are brainstorming the ideas it’s of critical importance that you keep references the learnings from your immersion.  You should be reminding yourself who you are designing for – hence the name human centred design.

Pen to paper : prototyping

After reviewing and categorising ideas you can create simple prototypes for the ideas you think will create the most meaning for users. All you need is a pen and paper. What this does phase does is allow you to bring the idea to life so that it is tangible and you can actually take it to an end- user to test. The idea is to create quick prototypes – don’t spend too much time on them as you want to fail fast if you are going down the wrong path.


Now it’s time to get your simple sketches in front of your customers. It’s important to emphasise that this is the most important step of the human-centred design process. If we don’t get feedback from our users we will not know if we are on the right path and cannot build on our solution.

Iterate, iterate

The information you gathered from your feedback sessions should be used to evolve your design into more meaningful solutions for users. Keep building on the design and going back to speak with users. It takes a few times to chisel the rough edges of the concept. You will find that each round has new insights and learnings. Once you have created a solution that is ready for users you can start with the implentation of the product.

Product Implementation

Once you have validated and refined your solution it’s time to go to market. Creating a high fidelity prototype or a beta version of your product. It is now ready to go through the process again to validate it’s usefulness further.