Alexandra Almond and Chris O’Brien of Meld Studios have used human-centred design to help organisations put people at the heart of their designs. 

Designing services that are fit for human consumption takes a collective effort, involving not just architects, engineers, town planners, project managers and graphic designers but also human-centred design (HCD) specialists who are trained to uncover how customers behave, feel and interact with services.

“For most designers, customers are just one group of stakeholders in the design process,” O’Brien explains. “Designers are expected to satisfy a range of different departments and agencies, along with dealing with regulatory and compliance issues. Ultimately, they can become quite removed from the end user of the service they’re creating.”

According to Almond, most design teams tend to make assumptions based on data, while human-centred designers directly engage with customers themselves. “We work closely with all types of customers, not just those who may be considered ‘mainstream’ or ‘statistically important’,” she explains. 

“Whilst traditional design disciplines use their expertise to create finite solutions, we continually test those solutions with customers,” she says. “We position customers as holding the real truth, rather than positioning one particular design discipline as being the expert.”

Organisations are increasingly respecting the opinion and insights of customers, observes O’Brien. They work with these companies to help them build even more empathy, understanding and respect for their customers.

Mutual respect is important for good design outcomes because it leads to greater collaboration as against working in silos. Almond facilitates meetings and workshops where departments come together to communicate freely with each other and their customers on a whole range of issues from legislative requirements through to operational demands and historical influences.

“When provided with an open forum to voice each individual perspective, we often unlock simple solutions to what were once considered complex problems.”

Quantitative data is important as it informs the design process; however, Almond and O’Brien specialise in collating qualitative insights by talking to people, listening to their stories and understanding how they interact with services and spaces.

“So much of what we do is about building rapport with customers,” O’Brien explains. “We need to understand their situation in order to bring greater context to how and why they interact with certain products and services.”

Given their scale and lifespan, large public infrastructure projects have long-term impacts on communities. 

“Understanding the needs of customers and communities — from day one — provides designers with a baseline from which to develop individual touch points,” O’Brien explains. “This set of principles can then be utilised as design teams move through each stage of development and construction.”

With a significant number of Australian Government departments embedding human-centred design in tender documents for large-scale infrastructure projects, developers are increasingly being called upon to demonstrate their commitment to engaging with customers.

This is not only a positive step forward for human-centred designers across the country but also good news for customers and communities at large.

“Quite simply, it means that emerging infrastructure projects will do a better job of serving the humans who use them,” says O’Brien.