Our crash course in human centered design

Learning by doing: Our crash course in human centered design

When we were approached about the Colorado Media Project (CMP), we were a bit confused. We had no idea what we had to build, only the idea that we needed to create a digital news platform to fill the void in a scattered Colorado market. With a little initial research and design, we decided that a website, smart home platform, interactive map and user contributed content section would do. All of these ideas were of course assumptions.

Our proposal was accepted and we began building out a team to get the job done, but then something happened and the project became a lot more clear. Hannah Lippe, a design thinking expert from Fidelity Labs was brought in to help give the project some direction.

Hannah is an expert in human centered design from Fidelity Labs; an internal innovation team at Fidelity Investments that “rapidly develops new products and businesses to revolutionize the financial wellbeing of Fidelity’s current and future customers.” (Fidelity) 

Hannah made it clear that we need to be understanding not just the market, but how and why people consume news and stay informed

Everyone involved in the project, including a board of directors made up of various Colorado thought leaders, individuals from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and our team from Cultivo Media got together for Hannah to explain the basics of how we should get started. 

The trick, she explained, is not to think about what product might work right off the bat, rather to understand how and why people consume news and stay informed. Understanding the people we will be affecting comes first, understanding the product comes later. 

The answer to our confusion was a human centered design process.

What is human centered design?

So what is human centered design anyways? Here’s an excerpt from IDEO;

“It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” - IDEO

People interact with products. You can't trick people into using a product, and if you want to actually create value, delight users, and have it be sustainable, you need to start with people. Human centered design means acquiring a deep understanding of how people are currently solving a problem and why

The process is simple, illustrated by the above graphic. Starting with understanding who your user is and what is important to them designers continue by identifying specific user needs and then working on potential solutions for them.

Initial Research

The first two weeks of CMP consisted mostly of secondary research to frame our design process. BCG took point on this so we could understand the current news and media landscape as thoroughly as possible. 

The research broke digital news into six dimensions:

  1. Geographic focus: How large of an area does a news source cover? Is it news pertaining to individual neighborhoods or is it a national source? 
  2. Topic focus: What do different networks cover? The Athletic covers sports exclusively but the Denver Post has sections for everything from cannabis to 
  3. Content role: Digital news content can be curated by an editor, a content creator or an algorithm. 
  4. Format: Are users consuming their news in long form articles, video, email or something else?
  5. Audience: What age range, culture or industry are we going to be looking at?  
  6. Business model: Do users like to subscribe for their news, or do ads not bother them? 

Community Innovation Sessions

The first workshop we conducted brought together the stakeholders from the first meeting Hannah coordinated, as well as various community leaders in journalism from fifteen different news outlets including the Denverite, Colorado Sun, Rocky Mountain News, Denver Business Journal and more. 

The goal of this first session was to help stakeholders and community members to understand the human centered design process and generate some initial ideas. 

We split into teams and went to different locations around Denver interviewing people about news consumption habits. The teams found several interesting insights into how and why individuals get their news. We were walking into our primary research period feeling confident and excited.

Empathy interviews

Primary research would look a little different than our initial research period. The process was a series of empathy interviews; talks with end users about themselves, where they get information and their news consumption habits. 

We sourced a group of 10 individuals spanning 5 cities around Colorado who roughly match the demographic breakdown of the state. The process went something like this;

Over 8 days we conducted the ten interviews and synthesized them into uniform summary docs on a shared google drive. The interviews asked questions about the interviewee’s hometown, how they talk about news with their friends, what news sources they use and the pain points they feel with news. 

We spent the next week in BCG’s offices going through what we learned from the interviews. With every interview, we made notes of interesting statements and answers and organized them by fact and assumption. Facts were put up on blue post-its, assumptions were put up on yellow post its and everything got stuck up on a window. 

As we were putting up all of the post-its, we began to notice themes recurring across several of the interviews. A lot of people had similar feedback on how they consume news, where they talk about the news and what they particularly like or dislike. We began to organize the post its by the insight they pertained to and ended up with fourteen distinct themes.

From here, we sat down and had a discussion on which insights are the most interesting and actionable. Four insights were chosen which were then developed into “how might we…” statements. These insights and how might we statements would guide our product design as we look to design around them. 

Our Insights and corresponding HMW statements are as follows:

Social capital is a primary motivator for news consumption

  • HMW give someone the news they need to feel confident and smart in their social circles?
  • HMW give someone the news that makes them feel like a trendsetter when they are talking about news with their peers?

People feel that news is entertainment that doesn’t feel like a waste of time

  • HMW make local news as addictive as Angry Birds?
  • HMW make local news as attractive during leisure time as national news?

Statewide news is not as directly impactful as local news, but also doesn’t deliver the heightened identification that national news does. 

  • HMW make people identify with statewide news the way that they do with national news?

 Getting outside your (political) bubble can be more trouble than it’s worth

  • HMW help people get outside of their bubble by making a source they disagree with trustworthy?
  • HMW help people get views outside of their bubble without creating conflict for them with their friends?

Community Innovation Session

The final step before prototyping was holding a community innovation session bringing together designers, stakeholders and media experts from around Colorado. The design session saw journalists from fifteen Colorado outlets come together to participate and lend their expertise.

We presented our findings like such;

  • We talked to…
  • We were surprised to learn…
  • We wonder if this means…
  • It would be game changing if…

This was a perfect segway into our how might we statements. We broke the attendees into groups of 3-5, with each group focusing on ideating around one how might we statement. 

Groups put up as many ideas as possible, refined them into user stories and then designed testable prototypes around each HMW statement.

Our team walked away from the community innovation session with tons of ideas, and a massive pile of post its, sketches and user stories. We spent a day synthesizing all of this into four final MVPs. 

We will be spending the next four weeks building and testing each MVP with the final deliverables being the tested MVPs, mockups of how a final product could potentially look and a report to go with each. Our reports will focus on user test results, possible further iterations and how a platform utilizing elements from each MVP could look. 

We’ll be doing posts on our experience testing the MVPs in the coming weeks here, so I’m not going to get into too much detail (besides the fact we have fantastic names for each one.) The real conclusion I want to leave you with is a general outlook of how and why this design process is so helpful. 

We went from a vague idea and some data to four pretty f*cking sweet prototypes in a few weeks, and we hadn’t even started thinking about prototypes until week six of ten on this project. Now I’m not saying this is how product development should always go. There are a lot of times where quick building and iteration is much better; but for the purpose of going from a huge, foggy concept to quickly testable MVP- a human oriented design process is something I can’t recommend enough.

When we started Cultivo, we didn't just want consulting work. We wanted to innovate, to build completely new experiences and technologies from the ground up. Colorado Media Project has been very demanding, stressful, and oftentimes frustrating; but it has been a learning experience and has validated our ability to do exactly what we set out to do. It just so happened we didn’t initially know that it was called human centered design.

If you want to get involved with CMP, you can see more at coloradomediaproject.com

For questions, edits or just want to get in touch, you can email me at will@cultivomedia.com