Brett Jarman

Oct 20, 2020

4 min read

What is Human Centricity?

You may have heard about ‘human-centered design’ as a supplement of Design Thinking methodologies, where an organisation seeks to deeply empathise with its customers or ‘users’, enabling their needs to be captured more accurately and increase understanding of the human factors that will impact how a product or service will be used upon release.

The formal ISO definition summarises this as

“an approach to interactive system development that focuses specifically on making systems usable.”

Great, that’s that then!

Well hold on a minute — what about when we are not designing an ‘interactive system’ (product or service)? Do we just ignore the fact that there are still humans involved in every other aspect of work?

What about the employees, suppliers, distributors, contractors, and anyone else involved in the success of an organisation — are they not worthy of having the word ‘centric’ added after them? After all, they are all human beings. Or does equality only extend so far?

In the struggle to find a more universal definition of human centricity outside of the narrow human-centered design description, here is an initial personal interpretation, taking inspiration from two eloquent explanations written on Urban Dictionary by a’Ali de Sousa:

“Being human centric is to deliberately and consistently acknowledge and empathise with other human beings when an interaction or activity takes place, embodying care and preventing prejudice or detriment to another human.”

Let’s break this down to learn more.

To “deliberately and consistently” do something implies it is both purposeful and fundamental to our being. We should not need a policy mandating us to be human centric, or delegated authority from a manager. Nor do we need these kinds of interventions — we all have the natural capacity and capability to be human centric, but we tend to leave that part of ourselves at the doorstep of our workplaces and instead allow these artificial, ‘professional’ personas to take over. We ignore the fact that we are one, whole person inside and outside of work.

“Acknowledge and empathise” — these are the critical enablers of human centricity. It is about recognising all aspects of other humans, whether good or bad, whether we agree or disagree with them, whether we like them or not. Every human is unique, with their own thoughts, feelings, and world views, and we have the incredible ability to comprehend the perspectives and emotions of others, so why not use our powers to understand and factor these other-worldly views in to our thinking in organisations? Surely it will allow us to make much better, more rounded decisions or have deeper, more meaningful conversations with others, and avoid potential detriment, perceived or otherwise?

A lot can happen every day in organisations. Meetings, conflict, troubleshooting, innovation. The line “when an interaction or activity takes place” is to accommodate all of this. At some point, whether immediately, in a few days or years down the line, a human will almost certainly be impacted or affected by the ripples of the conversations we have and decisions we make. If we keep that in mind and consider those impacts deliberately and consistently, we can strive to ensure only good will come to other humans.

The final point is “embodying care and preventing prejudice or detriment”. We all want to be cared about by other humans. We want our efforts to be noticed and appreciated, our concerns to be considered, our fears to be quashed. Being human centric requires a genuine, embodiment of care, not just a façade to try and appear caring, as people will see right through it. Equally, there may be times when a difficult decision just has to be made that could negatively impact other humans. If we have always been and continue to be deliberately and consistently human centric and care about those impacted, the negatives can absolutely be mitigated.

Take a moment to reflect.

Do the traditional organisations we still work in today match this definition and the explanations? Perhaps social enterprises do. How about businesses whose primary goal is to increase profits? The vast majority of organisations are unlikely to be designed, structured, and operate in such a way that all relevant human needs are being considered and addressed equitably. There will almost always be someone that loses out, is prejudiced, or caused harm, often without care.

For example, an organisation may see profits fall and decide to go on a cost cutting exercise which results in poorer pay to suppliers and puts their businesses at risk. There may be missed or late payments to freelance contractors, with no support offered whilst a problem is resolved, resulting in a great deal of anxiety for them around paying bills or putting food on the table. Employees are also often made redundant at the first sign of trouble without any attempt to let them help find a solution that could prevent redundancy in the first place.

There is still so much to be explored around human centricity and future blog posts will attempt to dive more into this subject, for instance by examining core qualities that make us human, determining human centric values to live by and working out how we can instill this way of being into organisations.

For now, I leave you with a final question:

“What does human centricity mean to you?”