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Highlights from the Heroku Office Penthouse Meet and Speak Up!

Human-centered design (HCD) is the not-so-radical idea that technology should be designed for the people using it. As big fans of HCD, Women Speak Tech was excited to arrange our March meetup around the subject. Nearly 50 curious minds gathered in Heroku’s SOMA penthouse for snacks, drinks and a collaborative discussion led by an expert panel: Kathleen Simpson, Product Manager at Heroku; Tatyana Mamut, Head Product Manager at AWS; Mike Talvensaari, VP Product at Wowza Media Systems; and moderator Shyvee Shi, Digital Strategist and Experience Designer at Deloitte Digital.

Mamut kicked off the conversation. “Human-centered design starts with the people who are actually going to be using this thing, interacting with this thing, or a part of this thing,” she  said. “You design from the place of, ‘What is the experience of these people going to be?’ as opposed to ‘What is my business goal? What is my business strategy? What is the competition doing?'”

Simpson agreed, and pointed out that while we’re constantly asking ourselves questions as we create new technologies, we can’t forget the most important question of all: “Are these really the questions the user is thinking of?”

While few industries take pleasure in highlighting their failures, everyone agreed that for HCD to work, organizational structures themselves had to be failure-friendly. After all, if the design process itself doesn’t make allowances for experimentation, weird hunches, new information and different ways of seeing old information, it’s not HCD. “You get into this mindset that every A/B test should be better than the last one, but it’s not always like that,” Talvensaari said, prompting a chorus of knowing laughs. “Every time, every failure, is a learning experience.”

Of course, a design from the greatest, best, most HCD-focused team ever won’t see the light of day without a sign-off from upper management. Shi reminded everyone, “We emphasize empathizing with the customer, but we can’t forget to empathize with stakeholders.” And then, of course, true HCD also finds a way to empathize with the population at large, and to hold true to a notion that these technologies serve a greater good: “We need to be passionate about our users and champion the voice of the customer,” Shi said. “But we also need to lead change and challenge the status quo.”

Jill Talvensaari

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