What really matters in modern customer-centric design?
Putting customers' needs in product or solution design first has become one of the boldest trends of recent years. Many tech creators brag about solutions that make users' lives more convenient, but we all need to ask ourselves an extremely important question: what elements should we consider in building products that meet particular needs? The answers are eye-opening.
Suppose you begin to work with your team on a product or solution that should address a specific need. What do you do at the start? Most commonly, you listen and ask questions like:
- What’s the problem or challenge?
- Why is it so important?
- What can be done to solve the problem or create a solution that will make the status quo better or easier?
- Who do you need to make it happen?
- Which tools can be used to do it?
We all tend to become heavily focused on building tech solutions that can improve the world (or at least a single action) and are 100% good and ethical on each level. The truth is, there are many factors we don’t take into account in the first place, but we definitely should.
Today we want to team up with Phil McKenzie and his guests to dive deeper into the topic, so we can get the broad picture of customer-centric design.
What does customer-centric design mean?
As it has become a buzzword recently, customer-centric design is a way of building technologies, products, services and solutions based on true customers’ needs, wants and challenges. It is all about that specific turn in designing when you decide your product is not what you, as a creator, think it should be, but what your customers really need it to be.
This is why you choose to actively listen to their previous experiences, fears, expectations and tips to better understand the whole picture. In the end, you will deliver a product that fits their needs best.
Putting the customer in the centre of your actions and combining it with CRM helps collect a large amount of data. Specific information about your customers and their behaviour provides a full picture and enables better customer experience design.
The ideals and the dark side of data
In 62nd episode of The Deep Dive podcast, “Speculation, Truth and Technological Fantasy” Philip McKenzie and Sun-ha Hong discuss the mythologies and stories we tell. Not just technology, but also the truth itself. How does this impact the society we live in and, in turn, reinforce various inequalities?
In a world so extremely data-centric, technology promises us knowledge and even, as Sun-ha Hong says, the mythical land of certainty. As we gather and process such large amounts of data daily, our rational minds assume that this information will be used in a rational way.
But the truth is, technology often makes us stop wondering what it is that we are producing or measuring. Tech creators often want to hide different flaws and inequalities from their users. Thus, an increasing number of users who become sensitive to all forms of misleading and misinformation demand fact-checking and full transparency of the solutions they use. Below are some examples of how tech solutions don’t treat everyone involved in it fairly.
As an example, in times predicted to be filled with tech solutions like flying cars and the broad use of telepathy, we still have regular taxi services like Uber. It is artificially cheaper – incredibly convenient for the customers, but deeply flawed for the drivers. Tech creators want to show us that the technology itself magically improves our lives.
“We become shielded from the real life consequences. Technologies pretend to solve the problem, technology is designed to not show you these things’’Sun-ha HongThe author of Technologies of Speculation
With its claim, Spend less. Smile more, Amazon is another example of a tech solution that provides fast e-commerce services on a global scale. It broadly uses automation, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and digital streaming (Amazon Prime). Customers can smile broadly, indeed, as they have their goods shipped worldwide fast and cheap, but for the warehouse workers there is nothing to smile about.
“Amazon with its automated processes force people to become like machines and live like machines. Warehouse pickers talk about all kinds of mental problems and physical injuries, because they are having to move in this unnatural way: every second bending in and out, grabbing the thing, trying to keep the pace with machines that were not designed for them.” – explains Sun-ha Hong.
Sun-ha Hong and Philip McKenzie show a few other examples of scratches on the perfect image of tech solutions:
- Facial recognition that still has to learn how to see black faces, just as accurately as white ones, to be more objective and help avoid injustice;
- Social media giants like Facebook, who claims to reduce 80% of hate speech on its platforms, but doesn’t show or explain how it is done to prove it;
- New surveillance system used in NSA and Snowden affair that monitors digital terrorist electronic activity – creators don’t reveal how it works because of its “clasified” status, but they ask hackers to spread the news about them without explaining the mechanisms;
- IMB survey made by FBI agents to search for terrorists in society – its poor behaviour indicators and weak predictors verify e.g. bearded men playing paintball or laser tag as people suspected of commiting a terrorist act.
Uncertainty of our times and care crisis
The outburst of the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to the whole world that there are completely unexpected and unavoidable situations that require global changes. In the 49th episode of The Deep Dive podcast, “Viable Futures of 2021” Philip McKenzie and Indy Johar touch upon COVID-related changes.
Surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a previously-existing problem: we all suffered from the care crisis, as people became increasingly often treated as machines.
“Fundamental economic question was: how do we create the economy of care, rebuild the economy of care that is beyond the economy of transactions, not instrumentalizing the people? Creating freedom for people, like nurses making the right decisions, not the decision predicated and the cheapest financial transaction they can make on behalf of the hospital. (What we need is – our note) economy based on intrinsic models of care, not instrumentalizing the people”.Indy JoharCo-Founder Project 00 and Dark Matter Labs
As tension connected with subsequent lockdowns shattered our hopes and prospects for the future, impacted everyday life and mental health, technology was given a chance to play a significant role. It became a tool of care.
Tech providers focused on solutions in healthcare and intelligent remote care, ideas connected with remote contact, work and entertainment or e-commerce with safe delivery, as well as providing psychological care by using platforms to connect with counsellors in a brand new way: by real-time video calls, voice messages or text messages.
The future needs to be human-centric
That need for not only customer-centric but also the human-centric design is becoming more and more visible now. In episode 67 of The Deep Dive podcast, “The State of the Future”, Philip McKenzie talks with Puruesh Chaudhary about the concepts of time. They discuss how we as different people view time, see our future and perceive ourselves through the prism of gender, religion, spirituality, profession, relationships, etc.
COVID-19 has pretty much changed the way we think about both: the nearest and the far future. Duration of the time frame is a very human centered process” – said Chaudhary. Complexity of human nature and what humans bring to the table is a value we need to take into account.Puruesh ChaudharyFounder and President of AGAHI, NGO
We have different structures in the countries we live in, different identities, and legacies. Young people bring completely different perspectives, as they were born in a digitalized world and have been raised to become the citizens of the world.
Different perspectives bring different stories and needs for now and the future. Every voice is valuable in terms of tech solutions that are being built to serve people around the world.
Thus, if tech providers want their ideas and solutions to bloom in the future, there are a few things to remember:
- While designing, take into account the perspective of everyone involved.
- Stay open and ready for huge, unexpected changes that happen globally.
- Be flexible and empathetic, as those who are able to adjust to the new reality and still put people first will be the most successful ones.
- In your plans, always put human beings first – machines won’t feel left out or neglected.
- Make your technology a tool of care. The economy of care is the only reasonable choice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Deep Dive is a culture and insights podcast with Philip McKenzie, an anthropologist who uses his expertise in culture to advise organisations on how best to thrive in an increasingly challenging and uncertain environment. Every week, Philip goes below the surface with the people who matter the most.
You can listen to the podcasts here.