How Human Centered Design Can Benefit Your Green Business or Social Enterprise


Human-Centered Design is a design philosophy developed by the award-winning international design firm IDEO that focuses on meeting the needs of real people. Applying the principles and techniques of Human-Centered Design can help green businesses and social enterprises develop products, services, processes, and organizations that solve real problems in innovative yet practical ways.

Human Centered Design technique is based around three “lenses”:

  1. Desirability. What do people want?
  2. Feasibility. What is technologically and organizationally feasible?
  3. Viability. What is financially viable?

The final solution must combine all three lenses in order to be successful.

The process of developing this final solution begins with a design challenge of some sort – developing a new product or service, solving a social problem, etc. – and it is divided into three main stages:

  1. Hear. The Hear phase includes field research and other forms of information gathering that will help your green business or social enterprise learn what your intended consumers need and want from your proposed product or service.
  2. Create. In the Create phase, you analyze the information gathered in the Hear phase and start to develop and test different solutions.
  3. Deliver. Finally, in the Delivery phase, you actually implement and launch your solution into the world.

These seemingly simple, common sense techniques and principles are ignored all too often by businesses and non-profits alike, but using them can make an astounding difference in the ultimate success of any business or organization. For example, the water charity Water.org was founded partly in response to the discovery that more than 50% of all water projects fail within the first few years. Co-founder Gary White discovered that this was often because local people were not given the knowledge or tools to repair the pump or other water project themselves. As a result of this discovery, Water.org focuses its water relief efforts on simple, accessible technology that is easy to repair and maintain using materials and tools that are readily available locally. It also trains local residents to make the repairs themselves.

Human Centered Design can also help ensure a successful product launch for green businesses by capitalizing on the growing demand for “eco-superior” products: products that offer both greater environmental sustainability and superior performance to conventional products. For example, IDEO worked with 3M to develop the Filtrete Water Station, which helps encourage eco-friendly reusable water bottle use by offering a convenient, portable refilling station with super fast filtration.

To learn more about how you can apply the principles of Human Centered Design to your green business or social enterprise, check out IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit, a free toolkit developed in association with IDE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

IDEO has also founded OpenIDEO, an online design community that combines Human Centered Design and crowdsourcing to develop innovative solutions to real world problems. The current challenge is improving maternal health with mobile technologies.

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Images credits: Pink Sherbet Photography and Jeff Kubina

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Green Marketing TV

Green Marketing TV is the business channel for green business owners and social entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs who care about people, profits, and the planet. We offer news, tips, insights, and compelling interviews that empower entrepreneurs create and grow their triple bottom line business.


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