• Chris Danek

What Is Human Centered Design and Why Is It Important for Bessel Origin?


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When I created the Bessel Origin program, three words guided me: Human. Centered. Design.


But what is human centered design? And why is it a core principle we teach to Bessel Origin participants? Let’s explore this topic, which is near to my heart as a mentor, leader, and teammate.

What is human centered design?

Human centered design is iteratively creating solutions to complex problems, with people at the center.


It’s a concept that evolved from design thinking, a framework championed by David Kelley and IDEO, that has become widespread in the past 15 years.


The foundations of design thinking are:

  • Deeply understand a problem,

  • Work creatively to frame the problem, and

  • Iterate to create a solution.


In design thinking, we frame the problem to align with what the customer needs. In other words, who will use and benefit from the solution? What are the challenges and opportunities they currently face?


As human centered design has evolved, we’ve opened our lens beyond just the customer to include everyone who is impacted by the solution. How might the solution impact end users and all of the other stakeholders: the people who design and make the product, the people involved in distribution and shipping, and the greater community? How might our solution impact sustainability and stewardship of resources? Human centered design allows us to consider the complex social system involved in every decision and broad impacts.

What are the core mindsets of human centered design?

There are seven mindsets we use in human centered design:


  • Empathy. We consider other people’s perspectives and frame their challenges.

  • Creative confidence. We believe that we have the ability to accomplish important things. We aim high and go for big goals. We believe in ourselves and trust the design process.

  • Make it! Instead of waiting for the perfect plan, we make prototypes of our imperfect ideas. We get better at prototyping to learn, creating prototypes that just answer our questions.

  • Learn from failure. We know that nothing will ever be perfect at the beginning. We study what works and what doesn’t, and we apply what we learn.

  • Iterate, iterate, iterate! We look at iterating as an opportunity to continuously learn and improve. Iteration lets us combine ideas and make refinements. We welcome the chance to adjust the course and get better.

  • Embrace ambiguity. We’re solving big, complex problems. That’s hard. We’ll face uncertainty along the way, from framing the challenge to creating solutions. We know that if we can hold multiple conflicting ideas in our minds at the same time, then we might create a great solution that resolves these apparent conflicts. We know that open-ended questions can have more than one right answer and learn by experimenting.

  • Optimism. When we’re on an open-ended journey with no clear answer, we might feel anxious or overwhelmed. Solving big problems is challenging, especially if you’re new to this process. Whether it is struggling to get started, or dealing with setbacks, reminding ourselves that this is part of the process helps us keep a positive outlook.

The mindsets above come from the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design by IDEO.org. The descriptions are mine, and I would love to hear your thoughts!


Why do we use human centered design in Bessel Origin?

Bessel Origin provides just that — an origin, a place to begin. In the Bessel Origin program, we bring people to the starting line and teach them the foundational mindsets and methods they’ll need to succeed and contribute in today’s professional workplace.


Human centered design provides a process to tackle open-ended challenges. That’s why Bessel Origin is about more than just completing projects. It’s about working in teams to develop these core mindsets and methods that can be applied to any future job, challenge, or opportunity.


Learning the foundations of human centered design helps recent graduates move from an academic mindset (with clear answers and a rubric defining success) to the more ambiguous world of work. We learn that there is no “right” answer, and we challenge ourselves to think creatively about open-ended problems. We’ve seen in other contexts that the journey to develop human centered design mindsets and methods can transform professionals and their teams at all levels.


Human centered design also has benefits beyond our professional lives. When we practice putting the human at the center, we condition ourselves to show more respect, compassion, and openness to everyone around us. These mindsets often lead to transformations in our personal lives. In short, there’s a lot of goodness in these mindsets.


As a mentor to many students and young people over my career, I have seen the power of this process. I’m proud to help all of our Bessel Origin participants begin their journey in human centered design.


Learn more about the Bessel Origin program and apply for the next cohort.


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