None of us are strangers to the phenomenon of COVID-19 and all of the ways that it’s changed our lives. While we’re all doing our best to navigate the uncertainty, underlying the chaos and trauma is a movement that’s propelling us to a more empathetic perspective of those around us. Our way of seeing the world is now more human-centered in ways that it’s never been before.

As an Innovation Strategist, I’ve spent countless hours on video chat collaborating with my team over the last few weeks. As a result, I’ve interacted with my coworkers in completely new ways: In their living rooms with decor that reflects their styles; no longer dressed to the nines. I see them as not just as coworkers but “Mom” or “Dad,” a significant other to someone who occasionally slips into the frame of the video, a proud pet parent eager to finally introduce their illustrious fur-children to their virtual colleagues. Whether we realize it or not, these encounters shatter the “work relationships” we’ve come to know and provide a well-rounded perspective of each person’s identities that reflect a more accurate picture of who they are.

My hope is that we can hold fast to this human-centered viewpoint long after we overcome the current crisis. Imagine how powerful it would be if we took this transparency to new heights when we consider people for whom we design products and services. It leads me to the question:

How might we design for our users in a way that appreciates how truly multi-faceted they are?

It starts with empathy.

Creating a boilerplate quantitative survey can be tempting, but it’s not going to provide the same level of humanness that you can get from a one-on-one conversation with your users. Take time to get to know them — really know them — by conducting in-depth interviews (IDIs) on a regular basis to learn about ALL of the ways they exist in the world. This is the time to get deep and let the conversation go where they take you. Your agenda should be nothing aside from absorbing the stories they share.

At 352, we often use grounded theory as a guide for these discussions. For those who aren’t used to this level of personal closeness with their users, it can feel awkward, and maybe a bit intrusive, but what you’re doing is cultivating a thorough view of who your users are in a way that honors the eclectic in all of us.

Consider all identities.

A persona for a homeowner that lists pains, motivations, and attributes all related to their viewpoints on their home is going to miss key insights in other aspects of their lives that may drive behaviors and mold their perspectives. As an innovator, I have a responsibility to consider the whole person I’m designing for — even if I’m only designing for a small subset of their life. 

For a B2B company, that may mean gaining an understanding and appreciation of customers on a personal basis, beyond just their job role and responsibilities. Consider creating a persona template that includes a section dedicated to other roles the person fills in their lives. Challenge yourself to picture them outside of their go-to identities. How do they behave in other situations? What are their thoughts, beliefs, and fears unrelated to the specific topic you’re exploring? You may miss the mark at first if your answers are based on assumptions, but it will get you thinking about your user in a way that helps you understand them with a more human-centered, authentic perspective.

No one asked to have their lives turned upside down by a global pandemic, but we can take this experience as an opportunity to tap into the unspoken value. Several weeks ago, I was asked to help produce a virtual workshop with over 50 attendees for the Southeast Association of Facilitators. I had never done anything like it before, so I was flying by the seat of my pants (though trying not to show it). My apprehension must have been obvious, because the president of the organization made it a point to repeat something multiple times before and during the workshop:

The word of the day is grace.

That phrase not only eased my jitters in the short-term, but has played in my head daily ever since. It represents a shared understanding that we’re all in this together, eager to extend patience to one another as we navigate the newness. I hope that as the world adjusts and adapts to the disruption of COVID-19, we can continue to keep grace toward others front and center, for both our customers and those we work with closely. In doing so, we’ll have embraced the ethos of human-centeredness.


Erin is a Director of Innovation at 352 with a passion for unraveling complex challenges, crafting creative new solutions, and accelerating the learning process to customer insights.