It’s Hackathon time – but what are we here for?

Rowena Westphalen, Director of Solution Engineering, Salesforce

As we approach the apps4autism Hackathon, it’s the perfect time to refine our understanding of the meaning and potential of ‘human-centred design’.

In an age where customer experience has become the number one value driving successful businesses, the concept of applying human-centred design to technology engineering makes perfect sense. Applying it at all stages in the innovation cycle has become one of the most effective ways to create and deliver new services that meet customers' increasing hunger for amazing experiences.

Perhaps the most powerful application of human-centred design is in the medical field. There, it evolves from something that excites and delights its users, improves customer experience and humanises business, to something that truly transforms lives.

Look at Cochlear – a few years ago, Cochlear pivoted from being a business that sold hearing implants to surgeons (with not a tear-jerking video in sight!), to one that helped people connect with their loved ones.

Their change in thinking allowed Cochlear to recognise new opportunities related to helping people to connect. That's when they discovered entirely new product innovations that serviced latent unmet needs of the implant recipients. Today Cochlear provides a wireless technology service that allows users to stream music and have better sound clarity on phone calls.

Design thinking vs. human-centred design

But let’s step back and discuss what human-centred design really means. People currently use the term ‘design thinking’ a lot.

The application of design to technology humanises the tech experience. And design thinking's potential for humanising business, offering businesses a way to connect – not only on a functional level but an emotional one – is causing a stir among companies of all sizes.

I've switched to describing the process as ‘human-centred design’ though, because we need to remember that humans really do need to be at the centre of the process.

Human-centred design is a set of skills and tools, and a mindset of problem-finding and problem-solving based on empathy. Empathy is probably the most central element here, which makes this process unique and valuable but the designer’s mindset is probably the capability that provides the highest value.

‘Problem-finding’? Think of the famous quote often attributed to Henry Ford – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. He was right. Problem solving is breeding and training faster horses. Problem finding is figuring out exactly what people really want and need, then helping people transition.

When people are exploring ideas, they often look for insight but I think people often don’t understand or fully uncover what ‘insight’ is. I think it's about getting to a point where you're able to reframe a perspective. In the human-centred design context, your biggest innovation point is when you can identify an unmet need. That becomes the inspiration from which we create something new.

Calling all change makers to the apps4autism Hackathon

And so we see an event like the apps4autism Hackathon, hosted by Autism CRC and supported by Salesforce. People who appreciate the power of human-centred design likely understand its potential. At this event, multi-skilled teams come together for three days to create solutions that could revolutionise the lives of people living with autism.

But it’s not just people on the autism spectrum whose lives could be revolutionised; we could all benefit.

Autism is not a disability, it’s a different ability. People on the autism spectrum have many strengths, yet their abilities vary from what we think of as ‘the norm’ – the masses. This presents challenges for them in the way they’re able to live their daily lives.

Human-centred design, creating apps that uncover some of the potential innovation points for people on the autism spectrum, can transform the lives of a large group of very talented people and can therefore benefit all of society.

Once there is greater insight into the real motivations behind the reactions and behaviours of people living with autism, once our perspective is reframed, we will collectively have the opportunity to ensure there is nothing standing in the way of a person and their abilities. That will be good for all of us.

Calling all change-makers. Apps4autism teams have unearthed key problems, insights, ideas and opportunities that are ready to be taken to the next level. We need your help to develop real-life solutions, using the Salesforce app Cloud, which can be prototyped and developed in health services, schools, workplaces and communities.

If you love technology and want to make a difference in people's lives, join the apps4autism group Nov 14-16 and help us create real solutions for real people.