Discovery Operations Guide

Working with HCD

Basics of the HCD Approach

Human-Centered Design is grounded in empathy and understanding. It begins with observation and research. We hear from people in their own words, in order to gain an understanding of what they want, expect, and need from a system, product, or experience.

HCD process

HCD is a cyclical process that moves from the discovery phase, through a detailed design phase, flows into the deliver phase for evaluation and iteration before finally entering the measurement phase. It begins with empathetic or sympathetic engagement and research. We hear from people in their own words, so we may gain an understanding of what they want and need from the agency.

By using HCD in our work to improve agency services for our customers, we can identify innovations or solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. Then, we design the solution, launch it, and measure its effectiveness against our initial goals. If the solution falls short of those goals, we make revisions based on further feedback from users and test it again. This dynamism is inherent to the HCD process. HCD solutions are for people and situations who are dynamic and changing, so the solutions are also dynamic and changing.

HCD Bubble Diagram


In the first phase, the focus of this guide, you will become an expert in the context for your design project. You will build a problem frame. You will observe situations and talk to people. You will challenge your assumptions by going to the source and being open to what you see and hear.


With your insights gathered and opportunities defined, you will start to build prototypes and work through design ideas. You won’t try to perfect these too soon. Instead, you will prioritize iteration, testing with customers, and making incremental refinements. Build, test and repeat.


After prototyping and testing, you’ll be ready to finalize your design, bring it to life, and share it out into the world. You will work with stakeholders to plan the logistics around the launch. You’ll also set goals and expectations for the launch phase.


In the Measure phase, you learn how your design solution is performing. You will get quantitative and qualitative feedback to learn if you are meeting your goals and expectations. Through this data, you will be able to improve your design.

Other Processes

HCD and LEAN complement each other. HCD is based heavily on qualitative research, while LEAN is quantitative. LEAN enacts the first two Es of customer experience: Ease and Effectiveness, very well. HCD also enacts Ease and Effectiveness, but adds the third E, Emotion, into the process, through an understanding of human needs, and identification of the desired experience.

The two methods complement each other. HCD helps to define the desired customer experience front-stage, and then LEAN can be used to architect the backstage to deliver on that desired experience.

Dr. Margaret Mead, anthropologist, famously stated that "What people say, and what people do, and what people say they do are entirely different things." This is a central truth to the social sciences and processes that build on them.

Human-Centered Design and other qualitative research methodologies investigate and help sort out the root causes of conflicts like the one above by Dr. Margaret Mead.

LEAN and other quantitative methodologies allow for the understanding of current system states and the rational correction of mechanical and nonhuman inefficiencies in systems.