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Have you ever wondered who came up with the concept of standup toothpaste? What inspires new innovation for Sealy mattresses? The thinking behind Apple’s first mouse? All these products and others were conceived by IDEO, an influential firm that has pioneered “human-centered design” to create new products or systems.

It’s a Mindset

Human-centered design is about believing you can make a difference. It utilizes an intentional process in order to get new, relevant solutions that create positive impact. Human-centered design helps you to believe in your creative abilities by tapping into a process for converting difficult challenges into opportunities for change.

The four pillars of human-centered design are:

  • It’s human-centered. More importantly, the thinking is deeply rooted in empathy and understanding the needs and motivations of people – the small saver, the businesswoman, the family trying to get a loan, the entrepreneur, and everybody else who interacts with your brand each and every day.
  • It’s collaborative. Your credit union is greater than the sum of its parts. The creativity and brain power of your team will always be stronger than just one mind. Any human-centered design initiative benefits from multiple perspectives. Other people’s creativity raises your own.
  • It celebrates the human spirit. The core belief of human-centered design is that people can create change – no matter the size of the problem, resource limits or other distracting factors. No matter what constraints you face, creativity and the design process ultimately enable you to find a solution.
  • It’s about learning by doing. The human-centered design process gives you permission to fail, learn from your mistakes, come up with new ideas, get feedback on them, then iterate. Taking that risk is easier when you know that new, better things are possible and that you can make them happen.

CO-OP’s THINK has been working with OpenIDEO, IDEO’s innovation platform for the past two years. During last year’s THINK Prize 15 Financial Empowerment Challenge more than 15,000 people from around the world visited OpenIDEO’s platform to contribute ideas, feedback and support. In 2016 we are partnering with OpenIDEO and MasterCard to bring credit unions together to collaborate as an entire movement.

What Have We Learned?

THINK’s goal has never changed: reinventing and strengthening the credit union movement. As we build and evolve CO-OP products and services, we are cultivating a design-driven approach to developments in order to make our business more relevant and responsive. Want to give it a try? Here are a few ideas any credit union can use to start experimenting with human-centered design:

Ask the right questions:

If you feel stuck and have problems generating new ideas, you might be asking the wrong questions. A typical question might be: “How can we increase home loans by 15 percent?” Or you might ask: “How can we convince savings account holders to sign up for a car loan?” Try reframing the problem in human-centered terms by asking questions like: “How can we help busy families to transform from renters to owners?” Or “What is the car loan process at the dealership and how can we improve ours to offer a superior experience?” By putting the focus on solving real human problems, you infuse your team with a newfound sense of optimism.

Discover the world:

To stay innovative you need to seek out inspiration. While the internet provides a plethora of information, you need to get out in the real world to avoid falling into predictable mental routines. Get out into the world and into the contexts where people are using your products and services. You’ll be astonished how quickly your perspective changes and new opportunities offer themselves.

User feedback is vital:

Yes, we all have punishing deadlines and, because of this, user feedback often seems to be pushed down on the list of to-dos. However, there is no substitute for an in-person conversation with its depth and nuances. If your goal is to address the needs of your members, you should never put these conversations off. A few ads on Facebook or Craigslist, an afternoon, a few snacks and perhaps a small monetary reward is all it takes. Feedback helps you to quickly check key assumptions, uncover opportunities for improvement and gather inspiration for new ideas.

Applying a design-driven approach to every touch point along your product journey can lead to breakthrough product experiences. Give it a try and you might just come up with some intriguing results. And, consider giving yourself a quick head start: Day 2 of THINK 16 is dedicated to human-centered design thinking — including a keynote by Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO, and a consumer-driven afternoon session “People Helping People 2.0”.

Register now.