The HGTV program “Love It or List It” is one of the best examples of live human-centered design. Our two principles, Hilary and David, portray their roles as home designer and real-estate agent in impeccable precision within 60 minutes of energetic activity. They sit with a couple, one wanting a bigger and newer house, the other wanting to stay but upgrade the existing house, to learn from each what it would take to either stay in the present house or list the improved house in favor of a new more amenable one. During the fast moving episode, David researches prospective sites for the eager couple while Hilary continually updates the couple on changes of new design.  In the end, the audience hears the decision to the vital questions, “will you love it or will you list it?”

Understanding our “users”/clients is first knowing them as human people in the context of their environment. Hilary and David tour their current abode after listening to their expressed wants; they capture the context and environment of the couple’s needs. Their empathic insights guide both through the process of new design or newly designed houses. They are able to suspend their biases and judgments to see the couple’s world as it is in empathic understanding as Hilary and David dialogue with them through the process.

Hilary and David do not work in a vacuum; they work in context, David with realtor agents in the housing market, Hilary with the construction engineers and builders. These are interdependent systems that work together for the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction throughout the venture.  Neither Hilary nor David are complacent with their progress, because they are “restless inventors.”  Each is looking for better solutions for the users’ needs, which are the whole focus of their energy. Though each pursue the couple’s diverse requests, it’s their team efforts that remain focused on the couple’s needs.

The rhythm of the design thinking process repeatedly moves through the empathic loop of listening and observing to reflecting and thinking to tentatively making possible mock-ups or prototypes, all getting closer to the couple’s goal. Hilary and David never get confused with who the users are. They respect the users’ experiences through the process, learning their “before” and “after” impressions, understanding that not everyone’s experiences are the same things in the same way. Understanding what matters to people demands an open empathy that puts the needs of others first.

“Design thinking is a process, mindset, and approach to solving complex problems”. This quote from is the nugget of design thinking. Durell Coleman (1), founder and CEO of DC Design, is the brain-child of Human-Centered Design, a social impact design firm that is described in the cited Medium article:

What distinguishes human-centered design from other problem solving approaches is its obsessive focus on understanding the perspective of the person who experiences a problem, their needs, and whether the solution that has been designed for them is truly meeting their needs effectively or not.

The users or clients become part of the design team and are incorporated in the process. Coleman’s five- step method embeds the users in all levels of the design journey – empathize: the foundational understanding of users’ needs; define: focus key actions on goals; ideate: brainstorm all possible solutions available; prototype: put ideas into action of low-cost experiments; test and iterate: be relentless inventors, never satisfied, even with a final solution. All the while, the user is walking with the team.

Take away: The user is the vital and dynamic center of design thinking.

  1. Coleman, Durell,