Your community looks absolutely stunning. The colors, graphics and font all work perfectly with each other. Everyone compliments you.
But there’s one big problem.
No one can figure out how to use it.
It’s not that you didn’t have a great design team. Or that you weren’t trying to be successful.
You just got caught up in making your online community look pretty before thinking about how it was going to be used.
That’s where a human-centered design approach comes in.
What is human-centered design?
Human-centered design is what it sounds like -- designing with your users at the core of every design decision. It takes into account behavior and personalities, and builds those characteristics into the product.
Designing with your users in mind isn’t a revolutionary idea, it’s just smart. It’s about taking a step back and putting a pause on making your product simply look beautiful -- whether it’s an online community or a new smartphone -- and digging into how it actually works.
It’s a different take on user experience, focusing on what drives your users above all else. What do they need, what do they want, and what does your community look like from their perspective?
Don’t worry, beauty often follows -- just look at your iPhone. But what’s the good of having a beautiful community if no one knows how to use it?
How to design with a human-centered perspective
Human-centered design isn’t brand new, but it’s been gaining more traction in recent years. Stanford even has a school dedicated to this human-centered approach -- Stanford d.school -- which is part of broader design thinking theory.
The approach’s main tenant involves constantly thinking about the people who will use your product, website or community every day. Users are at the core of every decision in the design process -- from the initial idea, to research, design and implementation.
IDEO is one of the best known design firms for using a human-centered approach for creating new products. Their methodology is so well thought out and highly regarded that they even built a toolkit, available to anyone who’s interested.
Although it may seem intimidating to go through their process, when broken down it’s actually pretty simple and replicable. If you’re struggling to make your community more accessible, effective and well used, consider going through their process:
Of course, your users are the inspiration. But simply knowing who you’re designing for isn’t enough. You need to know how they think, how they act, what motivates them and what they need.
Don’t just guess. And preconceived notions before going into the process aren’t helpful either. Your design team needs to go into the process with a clean slate and curiosity. Talk to your community members and find out exactly what they need and want.
This process can be a little overwhelming when you’re unsure about the final product. But that’s often where the greatest innovations and breakthroughs happen. Who knows exactly what the end product will look like -- but that’s exciting! If you already think you know the answer going into the design process, you won’t come up with anything radically new and different.
The first time isn’t always a charm. That’s where ideation and reiteration come in.
IDEO is known for their rapid prototyping process. Often, they don’t actually build prototypes -- whether it’s for a website, building or product -- but instead use sketches and focus groups. They build or draw a quick mockup, get feedback, make changes, get more feedback and continuing the cycle until they create a viable, awesome product.
Rapid ideation and reiteration doesn’t mean spending months and thousands of dollars designing and redesigning your community. What it means is creating mockups and sketches and then getting feedback -- so you don’t waste time and money creating the “real” community and having it fall flat.
Part of this process is also looking at competitors, fellow organizations or other examples of what you’re trying to create. Ask your users what they think of those sites so you can learn what does and doesn’t work and don’t repeat mistakes someone else has already made.
Ok, now that you’ve gone through a comprehensive research, design, and reiteration process, it’s time to show the world what you’ve got! But it doesn’t end there.
Always listen to feedback and work on making your community more user friendly. You probably won’t get everything right in your first go. That’s ok. Keep an open dialog and remember -- getting feedback and creating prototypes doesn’t need to be a long, arduous process. Draw some sketches, get feedback, and then implement if it makes sense.
Applying to your community
When you take a human-centered approach to community design, you’ll learn what drives your members to your community. Through the process, perhaps you’ll learn that community-driven product support is important, but users also really want to be part of an ambassador program. Or maybe you wanted to highlight your annual conference, and discovered that your mentoring program can benefit from a rehaul.
Whatever the case, you won’t get clear insight if you already think you know the answer. Throw your preconceived notions out the window, roll up your sleeves, talk to your members, and keep them at the center of your design process.