Human-Centric Design: Why The Customer Doesn’t Always Come First and How to Fix It

It seems almost impossible to believe someone would create a service that wasn’t designed around their customers. Otherwise, why else would it exist?

The truth is, it is all too easy to end up with what you want, and are comfortable with, rather than what your customers actually really need. Customers are often left wanting and wondering.

So what does human-centric design really mean? First we have to tackle a few typical assumptions that can derail good design.

1st Assumption: Design Means Making Something Pretty

Making something pretty is an output. Design is first and foremost what you input. You can design a whole myriad of things from products, campaigns, services, messages, interactions, and experiences but first, you must know what goes into it. Attractive visuals are the result of good design.

2nd Assumption: You Know What Your Challenge is

Knowing what your solution is alone is not enough by far. You need to know the conditions are going to ensure people desire it.  Not understanding the real challenge is far more common than you’d think. There are plenty of reasons why a solution might be more inward-looking than customer-focussed:

  • We are inclined to jump into solutions mode before really understanding the intricacies of the problem. Solutions-focussed people are creative and energetic and will spew out ideas but time first needs to be invested in a problem-focus, which might seem more of a drag.
  • It’s more comfortable to stick with what you know. People will have go-to solutions based on their individual skill set and experience. 
  • It can be tempting to looking for quick fixes that satisfy short term symptoms rather than long term causes. 
  • We have what’s known as a ‘first conclusions bias’, where we put more effort into following through on initial ideas or let initial thinking set the scene for the rest of the solution.
  • We can easily fall in with our own ideas. If you’re going to fall in love with anything, fall in love with the customer’s problem first.
  • Internal feasibility and technicality often trump customer desire considerations at the outset of designing a solution.
  • If there is a lack of evidence and observation on the problem being solved, we are blind to which path of action to follow.

3rd Assumption: You Know Who Your Target Market and Customer is

You first need to be clear on who you are designing your solution for. Who you market to and who your actual end users are might be very different. Being able to identify the end user and shape your solutions round their precise needs is vital. 

Now this is where I pee off the world of marketing agencies. Defining your target market is not achieved by creating a pretty-looking personality profile. Knowing someone’s favourite colour is blue, likes cats and binges Netflix won’t give you the insights to understand them at all. These things might help shape marketing ideas but don’t reach the underlying reasons someone would engage with a service or take a blind bit of notice of your marketing. 

Personality is meaningless as it doesn’t take context into account. Perceptions, needs and motivations change depending on the situation or environment. So design needs to be able to appreciate the mindset in the right context.

To properly know your audience, you need to understand their psychological profile – the underlying reasons why they would want to interact and the conscious and unconscious drivers that shape their decisions.

4th Assumption: You Have Good UX/UI

A UX (User Experience) designer makes a user-journey smooth and painless, with a UI (User Interface) to make that experience accessible and appealing. The role has been born out of the internet age is often seen as an expanded and evolved set of principles of website and app development.

But there’s a big difference between skillset and mindset. Whereas a UX designer will be largely proficient in the skill of applying proven principles and techniques to a set brief, they might not be so prepared to adapt approaches based on understanding the mindset and spotting particular behaviours of the target audience. UX can make services more user-friendly but not always user-fundamental.

Also, UX is more often than not used as a layer on top of what already exists, as opposed to underpinning the service itself. In fact, I know UX designers who feel restrained in what they can achieve because their remit is to tweak an existing process rather than redefine it to be more effective.

If UX isn’t hitting all the behavioural motivators, then essentially it’s back to assumption one, whereby the role of UI is making the solution look pretty – or putting lipstick on a pig as one of my colleagues so often puts it.

Therefore, having a UX/UI process does not provide an automatic safety-net to ensure your solution is as human-centric as possible.


Recognising and avoiding these assumptions in every project you undertake is vital. With the right challenge and right audience defined, you can free your mind from hard-to-shift internally-focussed ideas and always put your customer first.

To develop your capabilities as a true designer, the Creatures of Habit Human-Centred Toolkit has a full mind-set based methodology to set you on your way. You can download it for free below.

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