Human Resources. For the humans.

I think that there is a lot of magic about to happen at the intersection of design thinking, experience design, and HR. I think that much of the future of HR lives in this intersection…at least until the “human” in human resources is replaced.

Josh Bersin has been doing a nice job of shining some light on this intersection, helping to introduce the HR world to design thinking and the concept of experience design, and recognizing it as a powerful trend.

This is a fairly nascent body of work, and even among folks doing the work there is quite a bit of variation in what “design” means, in what “design thinking” means, and what “experience design” consists of, but if you are new to the conversation, allow me to make a few book recommendations:

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is The Next Competitive Advantage, Roger Martin

I personally would recommend reading anything written by Roger Martin.

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, Susan Weinschenk

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tim Brown

The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman

The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine III

I think that design thinking has a lot to offer, and I see it creeping its way into the world of HR and its adjacencies, albeit slowly.

The part of this intersection that excites me most is focusing on the employee experience, and trying to design work from the perspective of the people doing the work. To some extent this shift is already underway. Designing work space from the perspective of the organization gave us cubicle farms. Cubicle farms have not gone away, but more and more organizations are moving away from them today. This is at least partially due to the fact that we came to realize those cubicle farms, which were very economical and efficient from the organizations perspective, actually have negative consequences relative to the performance and the experience of the employee.

Most of the work experience today is still designed from the organizational perspective and discounts what we have learned about human behavior in recent years.

There are some folks today talking about employee experience and candidate experience, but most of those conversations do not go very deep…they tend to focus on processes rather than understanding, designing and delivering a consistent experience.

We need to get to the stuff behind the stuff.

Do you understand the experience of your employees?

Not from your perspective, but from theirs.

Do you have some understanding of what it sounds, smells, looks and feels like when they start their day, end their day, participate in meetings, have informal interactions?

Are we rooted firmly enough in the science of human beings? It seems to me that we should be the in-house experts on all things humans, but I do not know if that is the case, it does not seem to me that understanding human behavior is a priority inside the HR field and I often find it more prevalent in marketing and IT.

One of the books I mentioned above, 100 Things, is very simply, 100 things about humans that you should keep in mind when designing a new product. Things like:

  • Laughter brings people together.
  • People are swayed by a dominant personality.
  • When people are uncertain they let others decide what to do.
  • Anecdotes persuade more than data.

These are not all presented as universals, but as strong human tendencies that have some science behind them and there are takeaways provided for each to help product designers design products that humans can and will use well. Why doesn’t HR have a book like this? Or maybe it does, and I am the last one to know. This is a book geared more toward product design than experience design, but I think if we just worked off the four examples listed about, we would probably design meetings and decision-making differently.

Are you thinking about, talking about, or starting to bring design thinking and / or experience design into your work in anyway? This is a topic we are going to continue talking about so we would love to hear from you.


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