Holding onto Humanity in the Midst of a Digital Tornado
October 30, 2020 | human-centered design
by ExperiencePoint

Recently, C3.ai CEO and Founder Tom Siebel declared on a Fortune.com podcast that digital transformation is currently “happening at 100 times the speed of the industrial revolution with 30 times the change,” adding that this major global event is leveling “3000 times more impact on the world than the industrial revolution.”

Considering this unignorable and rapid global shift, it is imperative that the global business community keep a close watch on what stands to be lost as companies careen forward into this new and unprecedented era.

“In the rush to become more efficient in their digital solutions, many organizations have left human experience as an afterthought.” declared Deloitte in its most recent, annual marketing outlook report. “As digital transformation continues to take hold, it will be human connection that remains the most vital predecessor of a company’s success.”

To support this claim, Deloitte cites a recent 16,000-person study which found that more than half of the respondents desired a more “human” experience from their virtual environments and that more than 70% of surveyed consumers valued digital solutions that deepened their connection with other people.

As such, the paper argues that going forward, a balance needs to be struck between the “business needs of efficiency and speed to market [and] human values” — one which was successfully struck a number times at the outset of the pandemic, as digital realms pivot to reflect a human experience:


  • Netflix’s ‘Netflix Party’ allowed Netflix watchers to view content in tandem and to chat throughout the viewing. The offering encourages community in a time of distance and entices a ‘return of the customer’ with a new, delightful and time-sensitive spin on their digital service.


  • The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, recognizing the pain points of current customers, balanced human-centricity and the digital world by developing a Coronavirus Money Plan feature for its mobile app, pointing customers to tools that will help them better plan and manage their finances during this difficult time.


  • Online vacation rental marketplace Airbnb pivoted their digital services to enable their hosts to offer ‘online travel’ events wherein users could join for a virtual activity for a modest fee. The move both fortified the host-guest relationship and positioned Airbnb as a customer that both cared about its host community and its visiting users.

While each of these initiatives took shape in the early days of the pandemic, what remains clear months later is that digital migration has accelerated enormously since. If we are to take CEO Tom Siebel at his word, then how can organizations of today hope to effectively and efficiently hold onto their humanity in the midst of a digital tornado — a tornado that is moving at 100 times the speed of the industrial revolution?

The answer is human-centered design. As a practice, human-centered design does not, and has never, allowed for human experience to become an afterough. In fact, humans are the driving force of the methodology, which challenges us to think beyond the basic needs of business and to ask, “What is the human need?”

Further, the method is specifically equipped to keep up with the rapid page of change — such as we see now with the current digital revolution. It is often forgotten that the approach to problem-solving is non-linear and iterative by nature. It uses a scientific and systematic approach to innovation, yet it can be used as complementary to other approaches such as agile development and critical thinking.

This is why both transformation and innovation are routinely accelerated by human-centered thinking: the method builds a direct channel between provider and user, allowing practitioners to become rapidly familiar with the people they are solving for and to gain genuine empathy for their unique situations.

As businesses worldwide choose to hurtle forth into the digital space, it’s more important than ever that they become laser-focused on the rapidly shifting perceptions, expectations and needs of users, one of which has become resoundingly clear across industries:

“When COVID-19 swept the globe and technology became the primary conduit for interaction during lockdowns, people increasingly craved human connection,” states Deloitte’s Marketing Outlook Report. “As a result, consumers moved toward companies that elevated human-centric experiences.”

“Organizations should view themselves as human entities that mirror—and support—the values of those they are built to serve,” it continues. “Addressing people’s most pressing needs takes more than just good intentions — it requires a deliberate effort to identify and address those needs holistically.”

In light of these discoveries, it would seem that human-centered design, as a methodology, was designed for this moment. It is in this very time of momentous change, of digital revolution, that human-centered design will serve to remind organizations across the globe of who they are and who they are serving, even in the eye of a tornado.

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