Deep Dive: What is Human-Centered Design

Speck Design
5 min readMar 12, 2024


Design Thinking

In an era where technology’s pace often outstrips the human touch, the true value of innovation lies not in its complexity or sleekness but in its ability to resonate with, adapt to, and fulfill the nuanced needs of its users. This is the core of human-centered design (HCD), a philosophy and methodology that places humans at the very heart of the design process. It’s a simple concept with profound implications, making products not just functional but meaningful. Our engagement with projects like Opdivo + Yervoy serves as a testament to the power of HCD, transforming the way patients and doctors understand and interact with complex cancer treatments.

The Pillars of Human-Centered Design

HCD may seem like a buzzword, but it’s deeply ingrained in how we approach problems and solutions. It consists of several key stages, each critical to ensuring that the end product truly serves its intended users.

1. Empathy: Walking in Their Shoes

The journey into HCD begins with empathy, a deep, immersive dive into the lives and experiences of those we’re designing for. This goes beyond mere observation; it’s about engagement, dialogue, and understanding. For the Opdivo + Yervoy initiative, it meant grasping the emotional journey of patients undergoing cancer treatment and the clinical pathway navigated by healthcare providers. Through interviews, shadowing sessions, and immersive research, we aimed to capture the essence of their experiences, fears, and hopes.

2. Define: Crystallizing the Challenge

Empathy leads to clarity. With a rich understanding of our users, we can define the problem with precision. This isn’t about identifying a market gap or a business opportunity but pinpointing the exact need of our users from their perspective. What do they struggle with? What barriers stand in their way? Addressing the communication challenges around Opdivo + Yervoy wasn’t just about simplifying medical jargon but also about creating a narrative that empowered patients and doctors to have meaningful conversations.

3. Ideate: Creative Solutions

With a clear challenge in mind, ideation is where creativity bursts forth. This stage is all about breadth, generating a wide array of solutions without judgment. Our brainstorming sessions for Opdivo + Yervoy were expansive, considering everything from digital tools to physical aids that could enhance understanding and communication. This phase is characterized by a prolific generation of ideas, each offering a different path to solving the defined problem.

4. Prototype: The First Encounter

Prototyping transforms ideas into tangible experiences. This iterative phase allows us to experiment, iterate, and evolve our concepts based on real-world interactions. For our project, this meant creating models and mock-ups that could be interacted with by patients and healthcare professionals. Each prototype offered insights into usability, effectiveness, and emotional impact, guiding us toward a solution that felt intuitive and empowering.

5. Test: Refining with Real Feedback

Testing is the crucible through which prototypes are refined into final solutions. It involves real users and provides direct feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and why. This phase is iterative, often leading to revelations that send us back to previous stages for refinement. The feedback loop for Opdivo + Yervoy was invaluable, illuminating the most effective ways to communicate complex information clearly and compassionately.

Why Human-Centered Design is Indispensable

In today’s world, where technological capabilities seem endless, it’s the human element that often gets overshadowed. Yet, products designed without user input can miss the mark, failing to connect or deliver value. HCD shifts the focus back to the user, ensuring we’re not just creating innovative solutions but ones that genuinely improve lives.

Our Experience with Opdivo + Yervoy: A Case Study in Human-Centered Design

The Opdivo + Yervoy project exemplifies HCD in action. Faced with the complex challenge of cancer treatment communication, we embarked on a journey that began and ended with the user. Our approach went beyond traditional design methodologies, embedding empathy, clarity, creativity, experimentation, and rigorous testing into every step. The outcome was not just a product but a holistic solution that addressed the real needs of patients and healthcare providers, making a daunting journey a little less intimidating.

Conclusion: The Heart of Innovation

Human-centered design reminds us that at the heart of every technological breakthrough or innovative solution are people-individuals with fears, hopes, and dreams. It compels us to look beyond our preconceptions and biases, to design with empathy, and to never lose sight of the human impact of our work. As we look to the future, HCD offers a blueprint for innovation that is not only functional and beautiful but deeply human.

Engaging with human-centered design transforms not just the products we create but the very way we think about solving problems. It’s a journey we’re passionate about at our core. Through projects like Opdivo + Yervoy, we’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of designing with and for humans. Interested in exploring how HCD can enrich your next project? Reach out. Together, let’s craft solutions that resonate, inspire, and make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

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Speck Design

We improve human connections and experiences through innovative product design.