Behind everything we do is a human element. When we acknowledge the necessity of the people around us, our business becomes more profitable and effective, and closing deals will become easier. 

Not putting the human in the centre of your design process will most often lead to useless results, no matter how beautiful and well designed they are. Imagine a beautiful, minimalistic coffee machine with smooth and shiny surfaces, all joints perfectly hidden or integrated into the design, that also makes great coffee. Unfortunately, the start button is so well integrated that users do not find and recognise it as a button and thus can’t use it. That machine will probably not sell very well. The same goes for all products, services and processes where humans are involved.

Humans as 

the centre of everything

From the beginning, the idea of humans being in the centre of everything was popular throughout the history of civilisation. The anthropocentric idea that everything revolves around us has been replaced by other theories. But with innovation, and developing and designing products and services, we’re getting back to the beginning. Let’s put the human in the centre again.

It’s the same for everyone

Esther Studer 

Innovation Leader with strong focus on human-centred design, usability and innovation. 

[email protected]

Christina Boeglin

UX Consultant working in various projects as 

a UX expert and business analyst. 

[email protected]

User-centred, customer-centred, 


Let’s talk words: user-centred, customer-centred and human-centred are really close and there is a lot of confusion or different understandings about their exact definition. At ERNI, we generally prefer to be human-centred in everything we do. Each customer and each user is a human before anything else, but using only these terms, it is rather easy to forget about employees, partners or any other people relevant to our offering. They might not seem as important as customers in the beginning, since we cannot directly earn money from them, but they are equally important – if not more. The major shift lies in the understanding that the people working for you are just as important as the customer they are working for. Employees, suppliers, producers, leaders, consultants and even yourself – everybody falls into the ‘human’ category. Customer experience should always be exceptional, but if your employees and everybody else involved in your company  struggle to use the tools efficiently, clients will also see it no matter what. For example, if your employees have to work with tools that are very complicated, and they don’t really understand them, or they don’t know the product or service they are selling well enough, it will affect their interaction with the customer. The experience becomes painful for both sides. On the other hand, when your employees are happy and are selling useful products or services they know a lot about, the customer will pick up on that.

What do people really need? Ask yourself this question over and over again whether you apply it to your customers or your employees. Does your idea of a product or service represent what they find most desirable? Will your idea make their lives better, their work easier, their experience more enjoyable? 

To work successfully on your human-centred innovation, you need to understand all human parts of the process and fully comprehend what needs and desires are crucial for your target group. Put yourself in the shoes of the people you are creating the product for. Get familiar with their way of life, their habits, their pain points and wishes. Ask your customers, ask your employees, research, observe, get feedback, iterate and then find out what their needs are. One of the challenges is that nobody will actually tell you what they need, but only what they think they want, just as Henry Ford observed more than a century ago (“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses'.”) 

Remember that even though every novelty (especially in technology) brings new opportunities and reduces potential failures, it also creates new risks, challenges and insecurities for the customers. And most of the time, it’s difficult to identify those challenges before a customer complains. One method to mitigate these potential failures is experience mapping.

Faster horses

The first step to your experience mapping process is to get to know your customer better by creating an Empathy Map.Then set yourself a clear goal of what you want to achieve with the experience map. Do you want to know how your new customers will interact with your product or service? Do you want to find out what the experience of your loyal customers will be? What are you looking for? 

Then comes setting the scope of the process. Which part of the experience do you want to map and is there a specific problem statement you want to answer? Do you want to map the whole journey or focus on the onboarding process? Do you only want to see what customers will do with the product at the end of its lifecycle, or understand their experience during purchase? These are very important questions to ask yourself before you continue in order to keep your focus and achieve a concrete result that generates value. 

After that, your next step is all about data. Collect existing data and do research to learn as much as you can about the potential experience and the setting in which it might happen. After you have collected as much information as possible, create a  hypothetical map of the customer journey. Step by step, walk with the customer on the preset path from one interaction with the system to the next. Look at the people behind the processes too. Who is responsible for making the customer happy at every step of their way? Do they have enough skills and information to be of value to the customer? Are all important systems in place and ready in case they are needed? It is often surprising how many gaps and potential pitfalls can be identified by creating a generic experience map. 

When you have your hypothetical map ready, test it with real customers, ask them about their opinion in the next round of research and then go back to your map and adjust it. With such a map, you can create a whole new experience for customers.

Experience mapping process

At ERNI, we see a lot of companies that have great products but don’t think about every step their customers need to take. This creates anxiety that can lead to later resentment towards the product or the whole company. When we support you in implementing the human-centred innovation approach, we usually start by talking to your people. We try to find out what your needs and agendas are, and what you really need. We often find that our clients are not satisfied, but they do not know why. They don’t really see the reason behind their discontent. That’s where we observe and talk to them to find out what the problem really is.

We believe in leading by example, so our approach to clients is also human-centred. We listen to you closely and consider every problem that is hidden under the table. 

Imagine the following situation. A service employee of a company is out in the field, standing in a customer’s living room. The customer has a problem and the employee needs to call the support desk, but nobody picks up. They are both standing in the living room, smiling awkwardly for a good 15 minutes and waiting on the phone. Of course, the customer gets angry, because he has to pay for the whole duration of the visit. On the other side, the employee is very unhappy because it’s a very uncomfortable situation. So, what is the real problem here? It is the fact that the company has only one support line, and everyone calling is waiting in line. Nobody considered this use case, because it was labelled as an internal process and considered less important than the customer experience. And this is the perfect example of what should be changed. The employee who is calling just as well be standing in the rain or be in a situation where he needs someone from the company to answer the question quickly. Nobody in the company thought about that. If only they had a special line for their employees to call for advice when they are with a customer or need something urgently.  

We lead by example

"These are exactly the situations where ERNI can help. We train our consultants to be empathetic with your employees and customers at the same time and support you in finding the best way to either fix the problem or to come up with a new solution. Implementing human-centred innovation is not a hot fix that can be done within three months; it is a long-term journey."

We see a bit of reluctance from many clients at the beginning, because the process takes time and resources and trust in people you might never have seen before in your life. Here’s what we usually say: When you care about your employees while innovating, they feel appreciated and motivated, and are happier and more productive, which then leads to better ideas, products and services. (It may even result in a lower turnover rate. A paper from the Center for American Progress, which combines results from 11 research papers published over a 15-year period, determined that the average economic cost of turning over a highly skilled job is 213% of the cost of a year’s salary for that position.) Better ideas will better fulfill customers’ needs, which makes them more likely to pay for your offer and become loyal fans instead of one-time customers.

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