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Human-Centered Design approach is at the core of our impact work: Here’s how it works

Human–centered design is one of the work-tools of Powered By Enviu. The approach reveals how certain challenges can be an opportunity to find better and innovative solutions.

Organizations in the impact space are often motivated by the ‘desire to create impact’ when it comes to designing solutions (products and services) to the challenges facing our planet. After all, a given issue can be solved by creating some impact. However, too often, the focus is exclusively on impact, excluding the end-user of a business or product. And if there are no takers or beneficiaries for your solution, it lends the impact exercise unavailing. For a solution to stand a chance of changing how things are done, it must go beyond impact alone, and provide a superior experience (than the 'unsustainable' alternative) for the end user.

Enter Human-Centered Design: putting people we serve at the heart of our design process.

Human-Centered Design, or HCD, is an approach to designing systems where the end user is the starting point of the design process. It gives us the best possible toolkit to create solutions that are not just impactful but desirable.

How Enviu applies HCD

Before designing an impactful solution, it is pertinent to first understand what the consumer needs. Though the design of all our ventures starts from a particular issue (for example, the plastic pollution created by using single-use sachets), our first step is always a deep analysis of customer needs.

This analysis must result in qualitative data. By drilling deep into the customer experience, we can find the details, quirks, and surprises that form the basis of a great idea.

There is a huge opportunity to experiment with all kinds of methodology – do not be afraid to think beyond the survey!


Here are just a few ideas you could employ to

understand your end user:

  • Photo/video journaling of the customer journey

  • Asking customers to draw their experience

  • Spending a day shadowing customers

  • Conducting group interviews/discussions

  • Immerse yourself and live a day in the life of your target customer


When our Zero Waste Living Lab's team in Indonesia was designing our venture Koinpack (a reusable alternative to single-use sachet packaging), they spent a day in a convenience store, shadowing and speaking to customers and sellers. In doing so, they discovered that though customers preferred the small, affordable doses of everyday household products in single-use sachets, the fact they could not easily be resealed without leaks was a significant pain point. This revealed the opportunity for a reusable, resealable container to enter the market.

Putting the user first unlocks new answers to old problems.

Once our research phase is complete and we know what a customer needs in a product or service, we begin brainstorming.

The focus here is on ensuring that the solution we are designing is impactful, solves user problems, and seamlessly integrates into their routine, existing shopping habits, or supply chain.

HCD dictates what we need to anticipate and how we can adapt to the user's needs throughout the brainstorming process. This means constant communication and feedback with the end user, testing with prototypes, and getting as much quality information as possible before finalizing designs.

Throughout this process, we strive for creative confidence. Anyone from the team could have that next big idea, designer or not. There are no bad ideas in our brainstorming. Instead, we continually build on each other's suggestions. We also uncover concepts typically missed, by pitching anything and everything!

Take Econesia, our Zero Waste Living Lab's answer to the plastic pollution caused by single-use water bottles. A quick and obvious solution to this issue would have been a reusable bottle system. Instead, the team thought outside the box and settled on a water filtration system for the hospitality sector. This idea allowed hotels to eliminate the ubiquitous single-use plastic water bottle by offering their clients a healthy and premium alternative. The impact was enormous and immediate. Today, Econesia has already prevented more than 2,000,000 plastic bottles from being used and ending up as waste.

But what if there is no problem?

It's much easier to think of a human-centered solution when impact can be created by solving a problem.

Take Kenya, as an example, where farmers face huge post-harvest food losses that eat away their income. Our FoodFlow Program's cold storage as-a-service venture, SokoFresh, solves this problem. It creates a significant impact: cutting food loss, increasing farmer income, and reducing carbon footprint per kilo of edible food produced.

But what if the customer has no problem? How, then, can we shift them away from their unsustainable way of doing things?

Consider, for example, the single-use plastics ubiquitous in many home goods. Everything from hand soap and washing liquid to bleach and floor cleaner comes packaged in plastic bottles. So how can we get rid of this source of plastic waste when the customer has no apparent problem, and motivate them to switch to an alternative?

The answer lies in providing a superior experience (although, easier said than done). In this case, we went for greater convenience and built Qyos. This venture offers refills for a wide range of home goods out of a vending machine just meters from the user's home, making reuse much more convenient than traditional shopping.

HCD – more than just set and forget

A common pitfall when implementing HCD is to, well, forget to keep doing it. Using HCD is not a once-and-done, set-it-and-forget-it approach. Instead, it is a methodology that must be kept in mind throughout the design process.

Every product or business model change must be implemented through a lens of how it will affect the end user. This is not applicable to the design phase alone, but after launch too. Maintaining continuous dialogue with the users allows you to stay on top of even the most unexpected developments.

Again, a great example of this is Qyos. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, their refill vending machines were mistaken for hand sanitizer dispensers due to their color scheme and design. Had we not been in contact with the users, we might have missed this.

In the end, a large part of using human-centered design means accepting that the development of a solution is not a straight line from A to B, but a tangled web of learnings, iterations, pivots, and redesigns – leading to a product that provides real value for its users.

Why HCD is part of our venture-building toolkit

As impact venture builders, the reality of our proposal is highly ambitious. Building ventures that can create meaningful impact means moving people away from shopping habits and consumption patterns developed and ingrained over decades. HCD gives us the best chance to do this, helping us position our solutions for adoption at scale.

At Powered By Enviu, we will not use HCD in isolation but instead as part of a toolkit, combined with lean methodology. Impact venture builders have much to gain by combining these two distinct methodologies. Lean thinking lets us work quickly, efficiently, and with lower budgets, while human-centered design ensures that the ideas we build are impactful, useful, practical, and desirable for the end user.


Do you know of another methodology or approach that lends itself to impact? We'd love to start a conversation.

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