“The challenge is to use the principles of human-centered design to produce positive results, products that enhance lives and add to our pleasure and enjoyment. The goal is to produce a great product, one that is successful, and that customers love. It can be done.”
— Don Norman, “Grand Old Man of User Experience”
When was the last time you visited a doctor and were asked to rate your physical pain on a scale of 0 to 10? How did you respond? What does a “3” or a “7” really mean to you, and does it hold the same significance for a child? Can your current mood, the time of day, or even the weather, influence your answer? These are the types of questions that often plague us when attempting to convey how we feel.
But what if we could ask these same questions, not about ourselves, but how our clients feel? What if, instead of numerical scales, we could use engaging, animated faces that vividly express a full range of emotions – from frustration and relief to terror, contentment, confusion, and happiness? What if we could capture despair, understanding, feeling in control, and the sense of being controlled?
Transformative Learning Lab at WICSEC 2023
These intriguing questions emerged during a transformative learning lab at the 2023 Western Intergovernmental Child Support Engagement Council (WICSEC) conference held in Portland, Oregon. Attendees in this lab were challenged to brainstorm, propose, and build prototypes using human-centered design principles to enhance child support initiatives.
Participants were equipped with humble materials like wooden popsicle sticks, fuzzy pipe cleaners, and colored paper clips. Small groups at the conference then embarked on a journey with a clear focus: placing the needs and perspectives of those receiving child support services at the forefront. Among the innovative prototypes that emerged, using expressive emotional faces garnered significant attention.
At its core, the emotional faces prototype suggests a revolutionary way of communicating – not only with our clients but also with each other, with other agencies, and even across state and national borders. It hints at the development of a more empathetic and effective language of understanding, one that values and encourages genuine feedback.
Moreover, it proposes the possibility of distinguishing what works from what doesn’t. It invites us to explore additional challenges that may be impeding the success of child support initiatives and points to the potential automation of connecting individuals with external resources to address these issues, ultimately benefiting the broader community.
Shifting to Human-Centered Design in Child Support
Human-centered design is precisely what it sounds like – an approach to problem-solving that delves deeply into the human perspective, extending from the initial design phase to the implementation of solutions. Involving end-users right from the outset not only fosters a sense of ownership but also unleashes a broad spectrum of ideas that technical experts might otherwise overlook.
In the realm of human-centered design, the most promising concepts are translated into tangible prototypes for users to explore, meticulously test, and, most importantly, provide developers with feedback that is directly relevant. The ultimate objective? To deliver solutions that align perfectly with users’ needs and expectations. This is no mere catchphrase; it is the path to our future.
As a parting thought, consider the evolution of technology that has, at one point or another, touched all our lives. Remember those days when losing a painstakingly created digital masterpiece was a common tragedy, solely because you forgot to save your work before exiting a document? Think about the moments before the advent of auto-save when no safety nets existed to prevent data loss. This evolution, from the anguish of losing your work to being proactively reminded to save it, and finally to having automated safeguards in place to preserve your most recent work, epitomizes the essence of human-centered design – making life better through thoughtful and user-centric product development. Human-centered design is not a fleeting concept; it’s the path toward solutions that genuinely enhance lives and create a more inclusive, supportive, and empathetic environment for all.
Beth Friar is a senior training consultant for Courtland Consulting. To read more from our consultants, click here.