Human-centered design solves business problems

Picture this: You drop your two kids at school and then hop on the bus to work. You packed the last bit of food in their lunch boxes. Your bank account is showing only a few dollars left, and pay day is another week away. You've been putting off applying for financial food assistance, but you finally pull out your phone to go for it. You find the right webpage and locate a link to complete an online SNAP application. Great! You tap your phone, and the application a PDF document.

Your stomach drops. A PDF file means you need to save it, print it, fill it out by hand and then mail or fax it back to an agency. Each step of this ‘online’ application is a barrier to you feeding your family. You sigh, close the tab and sink into your seat.

This frustrating customer experience is completely preventable with human-centered design process.

What’s the human need?

When we sit down to create a solution, the first question we ask is, ‘What's the human need behind it? 1 Human-centered design is all about involving real users in the product or software development lifecycle. From exploration, ideation, feedback on features, usability, prototyping and ongoing evaluations, human-centered design puts the human experience at the core . The user experience drives iteration.

When you get beyond obvious things like “Where do I click next?”, design issues can be subtle. Think about it – if even one person in 20 struggles to fill out a form because of the form’s layout, it’s a major functionality issue when tens of thousands of people use that form. Human-centered design acknowledges that project teams never really know what works for users until real people try it and offer feedback.

“The goal is for a client to say ‘Yes, this really works well for me. It’s exactly what I wanted,’” offers Paulina Piasek-Murphy, PhD, Merative user researcher.

Better design practice make better business

Human-centered design is more than a nod to customer service. Businesses with good design teams and good design practices are consistently rated more highly than those without. A solid user-centered design strategy can help a business stand apart by creating products or services that are easier to use, faster to access, or provide more features than competitors.

Research backs this up. Well-designed products perform better for business:

Feedback is a gift

The foundation of design thinking is using empathy to put real people – customers, clients, and end users – at the center of the problem-solving equation 5. So how do we do that?

When we deliver changes and new features to Merative’s Cúram software solutions, it’s informed by a difficulty real people are having. It means that we had an evaluation period, tested a feature with users, and their feedback was either positive or their pain points inform change. We create prototypes to take to client users to try, and our design teams capture reactions to the experience.

“We want customers to have a voice at the table. We want to make it very safe so they’re able to say negative feedback.” Paulina Piasek-Murphy, PhD

Interviews and shadowing are very common ways to collect user information among caseworkers and social workers, primary users of certain Cúram solutions. But if we’re doing something more focused on public users – like beneficiaries of government social support programs – Merative team members usually go on site to better understand our customer’s needs.

“We’ve gone to offices where citizens go in to apply, PC banks (kiosks) for online apps, and we’ve done observations of people applying,” says Graham Harper, advisory design lead at Merative. “It’s not random people on the street testing. We want to know if this is going to solve or improve an issue, and the quality of that change.”

Customers like something that is human-centered

It’s not rocket science: A good experience leads to happier customers. But It's also not just about happiness, or satisfaction, offers Harper. “It’s also about how a good experience can lower costs/increase productivity and increase value provided by agencies,” he adds. “A bad experience can drive increased costs–such as through mistakes in data entered in forms–which then increases case processing time.”

Customers are more likely to purchase from a company that has well-designed products and services 6.

Read how the New York City Human Services Administration used design thinking to help move 95% of SNAP applications online

“Government agencies want their citizens to get what they’re entitled to in a timely manner, without stress, without hardship,” says Piasek-Murphy. “They want access to be as easy as possible. So that’s our goal in design as well.”

The Scottish Government

Over the course of two years, Merative, AWS and The Scottish Government teams engaged stakeholder groups at every stage of developing a new social security benefits agency. The teams held hundreds of sessions in more than 40 locations to help identify the needs of diverse groups and test concepts with different communities. In total, more than 2,400 people participated, including individual citizens, agency advisors and stakeholders like survivors of domestic abuse, minority and ethnic groups, young parents and users with disabilities.

The huge take-up of this new benefit in its first three months highlights just what can be achieved when you design a service with the people who will actually use it.” Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary, Social Security Scotland

Caseworker experiences

Government caseworkers balance a multitude of tasks. We wanted to better understand their daily struggles. Through human-centered design and extensive interviews with stakeholders, our designers discovered three ways to improve caseworker productivity and accessibility so they can deliver benefits to their citizens faster. A pilot after the changes showed an 85% reduction in clicks, with an average of 44% in time savings.

Country’s social services

One country-level government agency used hard copy mail for delivering social benefits. After brainstorming areas to streamline, we implemented an improved online form that made validating addresses much easier. It reduced incorrect addresses by around 50%, which also reduced postage costs for mail previously sent to invalid addresses.

Human-centered design solves social services problems

Human-centered design approach is the way to identify and address issues that users may have when using our social program management solutions or services. This iterative process involves creating cycles of user research, iterating, rapid prototyping, and real user testing. We apply it with every client. Bottom line: it works.

Learn more about Cúram by Merative


[1] IDEO. What is design thinking. (Accessed Oct 2022)

[2] Design Management Institute. Design Value Index Exemplars Outperform the S&P 500 Index (Again) and a New Crop of Design Leaders Emerge. Vol 27, issue 4. 2015. (Accessed Nov 2022)

[3] Hart, R. Design Thinking Can Deliver An ROI of 85% Or Greater. Forrester. June 8, 2019 (Accessed Dec 2022)

[4] Soni M. iSixSigma. Defect Prevention: Reducing Costs and Enhancing Quality. (Accessed Dec 2022)

[5] Killian J et al. McKinsey&Company. Building a design-driven culture. Sept 2015. (Accessed Dec 2022)

[6] Design Management Institute. Design Value Index Exemplars Outperform the S&P 500 Index (Again) and a New Crop of Design Leaders Emerge. Vol 27, issue 4. 2015. (Accessed Nov 2022)