Companies are searching for and developing sustainable operational models that help them overcome the challenges brought on by climate change. Despite this, a ‘human-centred’ approach has still been kept at the core of the ways of working and as a key mantra in company strategies. But what if the core of all business were based on an approach where humans are equal to other parts of nature, not considered above them and at the centre of the world?
The term human-centred comes up again and again in company strategies and operational models, on websites of design agencies and in the speeches of design operators.
A human-centred approach became a key principle in design in the 1990s. However, originally the term dated back to the design programme at Stanford University in the 1950s. It started to become more widely known over the next decade.
The design and consulting company IDEO, for example, defines human-centred design as a creative approach to problem-solving. The process of human-centred design starts with the people for whom the new design is intended and ends with new solutions that have been customised to their needs. Human-centred design is based on aspects such as deep empathy with the people for whom the design process is targeted. During the process, the designer will learn about the life of the future users, attempt to understand their needs on a deeper level and then strive to meet them.
However, the world has changed a great deal since the 1960s, when human-centred design first established a foothold in business design. The world in 2020s is also very different from the world of 1990s when human-centred design became the dominant approach.
Climate change, which has been looming in the background for decades, has gradually become a more and more visible part of companies’ and societies’ strategies. Sustainability thinking has grown and gained more foothold over the 2000s. Slowly, we are starting to understand that nature is not only for the humans, and that with our human-centred approach we will, ultimately, destroy our own living conditions.
Despite all this, human-centred still remains a key promise, method and approach in design competence.
But what if humans were just one of the starting points for the design of products, services or business? What if, in addition to humans, the basis for developing products, services or business were the nature that surrounds humans?
But what if humans were just one of the starting points for the design of products, services or business? What if, in addition to humans, the basis for developing products, services or business were the nature that surrounds humans? What if humans were not considered to be above nature but rather equal to other living creatures– a consistent part of the ecosystem? What if the design process, following IDEO’s definition, were based on deep empathy with all those forms of life touched by the production of the product, service or business model in question? What if the designer attempted to understand the needs of these other forms of life on a deeper level and took them into account, too?
Even though there are now attempts being made to develop more sustainable design and design solutions that are more environmentally sustainable, giving up the term ‘human-centred’ will put us in a completely new position. This new perspective to design will affect the design of the entire company’s operations. It forces us to rethink the principles of our operations and give up our perceived position above other aspects of nature.
This change in thinking will also bring about a major challenge. It forces us to humble ourselves. However, the quicker we are able to accept this challenge and overcome it, the faster we can create new products, services and business models that have the prerequisites to succeed in the future, too.
This new perspective to design will affect the design of the entire company’s operations. It forces us to rethink the principles of our operations and give up our perceived position above other aspects of nature.
How could we refer to this approach?
A bio-centred approach considers humans equal to other creatures in nature, not above the other forms of life. Regenerative thinking focuses on giving more than what is taken out. Planet-centred design attempts to view actions as a systemic part of the entire planet.
However, as humans are a self-centred species, the one health perspective could help us internalise the new approach: the well-being of nature equals the well-being of humans.
Can we afford human-centred thinking anymore?
Photo: Caroline Hernandez
Design Forum Date Online 2021: Well Designed Business discussion organised by Design Forum Finland in late October 2021 focused on business design. The design experts participating in the event talked about the preparedness of companies to make changes and the significance of design competence in creating strong and sustainable future business.
The author, Heini Lehtinen, is a future-oriented design professional with a focus on concept and strategic design. She has worked in many different design sectors, from sustainable fashion to spatial design, from well-being design to social design and from online and printed publications to architectural policy. She has also edited the book ‘Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design’ (Belgium / UK 2018).