Human-Centred Innovation
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"Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success."

- Tim Brown, IDEO. 

This quote is a reminder of the traditionally disparate threads that Design Thinking weaves together in providing a mindset, toolkit and process for innovation. I should flag upfront the importance of that 'mindset' piece. For me, this comes in four key elements: 

  • Leading with empathy to challenge and reframe the problem. 
  • Co-design, bringing together key stakeholders, specialists and the audience groups themselves. 
  • Failing fast, through quick prototyping and feedback loops. 
  • Designing for end-to-end experiences rather than just one-off events.

That said, here are some of the models I use in my Human-Centred innovation approach. Some are predictable and common ones, but there are also a couple of less traditional inclusions. 


  • Design Thinking
  • Ten Types of Innovation


  • Nonviolent Communication
  • Personas 
  • Empathy Map
  • Journey Mapping (though this can also be used at the end of the process)


  • Framestorming
  • 5 Whys


  • Impact Effort Matrix


  • Prototypes
  • Feedback Loops
  • EAST Framework

Let's jump into those models - as always, please click into them for more practical techniques and examples of how to use them. And join up as a member to save them to your personal Latticework and use our Learn function to embed them to memory. 

And yet another model that is not a normal inclusion in Design Thinking discussions. However, in my opinion, part of designing for people must understand that people are on 'automatic pilot' for most of their lives, for most of the time. In that context, what's more human-centred than designing Nudges and shifting the environment?

Personas are commonly used in this process to empathise with parts of your audience. That said, I've seen them used as shortcuts with no empathy at all and worse, as stereotypes. Click into this model for some specific recommendations to use them to illuminate and empathise.

Of course I had to start off with the model in question. Dive into it for more about what it involves.

This is one of the ways you can Framestorm, a simple but powerful model that allows you to dig deeper and get to the real question worth solving.

I pretty much incorporate Empathy Maps into all of my Personas. Or a version of them anyway. After generating a persona, I'll ask what will they 'feel, think and do' in regards to the change we are trying to create?

You probably didn't expect this here and I acknowledge it's a personal preference. For me, Nonviolent Communication helps to empathise and dig beyond initial needs so adds new dimensions to being 'human-centred'. That said, it's not traditionally used for innovation.

Once you have chosen a way forward, ask 'how can we preview and test this experience?' You might consider combining this with Journey Maps as part of your Prototyping, and bringing back Empathy Maps as a tool to better understand audience reactions.

Journey mapping adds the dimension of time to your Personas and Empathy Maps. More than that, it adds touch points so you can identify weak spots or challenges in the experience. I've placed it here as an empathy tool, but you can also use it at the end of a process to preview and even Prototype the experience.

Once you've empathised and understood your audience, resist the urge to jump into ideation. Instead, take a moment to 'question the question'. Click into this model for a range of practical techniques how. And remember, you might need to win impatient stakeholders over to spending time on exploring the problem.

Not a usual inclusion, but it's a reminder to iterate. That might look like Agile inspired sprints, or other inbuilt Feedback Loops to constantly rate the reaction of your audience and improve accordingly.

After you Framestorm and Ideate a bunch of options, you're left with... well, a bunch of options. Use this model as part of co-design sessions to quickly sort through them and decide what goes to the Prototype stage.

This model is not technically part of human-centred design but is a useful addition. Many innovation processes focus on rethinking the product or service and user experience as a result. Using this framework upfront can help to broaden your scope and perspective.


That's it for my list. Let me know which additional models you use and your experience in the comments below.

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