By using our website you accept our cookies policy.Find out more

People Shaped Design

Posted on 28/09/2017

The value of human centred design approaches to surprise, delight and serve your audiences

Since I first entered the world of innovation consulting, I have been bothered by the thoughtlessness with which too many things are produced and brought to market. I would even go as far as to describe much of what goes on within the design and innovation world as irresponsible.

Thanks to a democratisation of influence mainly through the advent of social media, we now live in an era of unprecedented customer or user voice. As someone responsible for crafting the “next new thing”, a designer, innovator, entrepreneur or business strategists is now under much more pressure. If your design delivers a poor user experience, everyone knows it more or less immediately.

Organisations of all types – companies, charities and governments – now have access to almost real-time metrics about how well their new proposition is performing. They know what consumers are saying, what they are looking at, and for how long and what their engagement is. Gone are the days when a new product could be launched and heavily marketed with the hope that people will buy it.

"The job of a human centred designer is to ask the tough questions, seek out evidence and help a complex and fast moving team make the right decisions."

As such, we are now part of a world where the making process must result not just in the creation of purchasers, but in the creation of positive end-user advocates as well. And by end-user advocates, I include not just customers, but people who are partners and employees too.

This doesn’t just mean shifting a few focus groups from the end of the process to the beginning. This doesn’t work – primarily because users generally don’t know what they want next and are still dealing with the vast array of choices they already face.

But what you can do is work to understand underlying consumer behaviours by putting people at the centre of your thinking, identify what their unmet needs are and rapidly prototype customer propositions which can then be exposed to people to find out what works, and what doesn’t.

The job of a human centred designer is to ask the tough questions, seek out evidence and help a complex and fast moving team make the right decisions. It is a craft that comes with great responsibility, but in the course of my work I have come across a number of tricks – frameworks and tools that can help to generate, develop and validate a new proposition.

I describe several of these tricks in my new book, and have used them many in different industries and contexts. But underlying them all there are the same fundamental values that puts the needs, motivations and behaviour of people at the centre of business thinking. And for designers, innovators, entrepreneurs and business strategists this approach should complement and enrich existing skills with the ability to observe, understand, empathise and respond effectively to your users’ real needs.


Matt Marsh has a background in behavioural sciences & user-centered innovation, and is recognised internationally for his people-shaped approach to new product, service and brand innovation.

He is creative director at Firsthand Experience, professor at Ravensbourne University in London, visiting lecturer at Judge Business School Cambridge, and serves on the Professional Affairs Board of the Institute for Human Factors and Ergonomics.

People Shaped: Tales and Tricks of a Human Centred Designer” was published by Matt Marsh in July 2017 .