User-centered design has placed the user at the origin and the end of the design of products and services. However, most times, between the product/service and the user there is another key player: the employee.

In comparison with a design focused on the product/service, user-centered design represents an improvement in the creation of simpler, more intuitive and attractive products and services. User-centered design observes and listens to users, taking into account their preferences and their own way of interacting with the product/service.

However, since the majority of projects undertaken by the design consultancies are commissioned by a client (usually a company), between the product/service and the end user it appears a critical intermediary player that should not be ignored: the employee.

The employee, not the designer, is who is going to present the product/service to the user. The employee is the one who will explain to the user how it works and what it does. And the employee is who will receive the user feedback. In short, the relationship between employees and the product/service will largely determine how will be the user perception.

The task of designing a new product/service usually comes from the direction of the company and, of course, the designer should deal first with them. It is important to know what they want and why they want it. From there, employees must become one of the designer’s main partners in the company.

In general, companies make clear to employees that what is expected of them is not an opinion, but to carry out what they are asked for. In this environment, any new project is seen by employees as interference in their work, as a foreign element. If we want the new product/service to be successful, incorporating employees in the design process is essential.

Employees must feel that the new product/service is also theirs. For this, there are a multitude of techniques to encourage creativity and group participation. Most design consultancies have developed their own techniques, as co-design, or have introduced variations in known techniques, such as brainstorming.

However, designers should be aware that, most likely, workers will not share their enthusiasm. Many companies, wanting to give an innovative patina to their hierarchical management, occasionally use these techniques to create a “team spirit”. Unfortunately, these techniques are usually applied in a superficial or incorrect way, resulting in a skeptical and mocking attitude from employees.

One of the biggest challenges of designers is, therefore, winning the employees’ trust and involvement. Employees should see designers as part of the team. If designers get this, they will find a unique source of knowledge and experience, essential to design a real user-centered product/service.

Some interesting sources and articles:

Techniques for Creative Thinking [link]

Tools and tips to master the human-centered design process (IDEO) [link]

Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play (video at TED) [link]

Lehrer, Jonah “The brainstorming myth”, The New Yorker (January 30, 2012) [link]

Leberecht, Tim “How To Nurture Your Company’s Rebels, And Unlock Their Innovative Might”, Design Mind blog (September 24, 2012) [link]