Designing employee experiences


As curators of organisational culture, we live and breathe the human side of business with the big questions asked of us remaining fundamentally embedded in the human experience. Questions like:

  • How do we create a more inclusive culture?

  • How do we design environments for imagination?

  • How do we become a cognitively diverse organisation?

  • How do we weave creativity into our DNA?

Every single one of these questions has the human experience at its core, requiring an intimate understanding of the way in which people move through and experience employment. But with the human side of HR often getting lost in the noise of internal processes, policies and politics, we find ourselves having to frequently pull our focus back to what really matters ... people.

Human-centred design brings the co-creation of experiences to the fore. And while most of us would be familiar with the term 'user experience' or 'UX' as it relates to product design, we may not be aware that the discipline can be equally applied to services and in non-customer-facing roles. Welcome to ... service design in HR.

While it is difficult to find a universally accepted definition of service design, put simply it is ‘the design of services’ … or the 'practice of making services better through research, developing ideas and testing experiences'[1]. It introduces a range of tools, concepts and items originating from various disciplines. From personas to journey maps, touch-points to empathy maps - tools that help us explore the 'what if' moments that arise during research and conceptual design’[3]. And while the cross-pollination of methodologies is nothing new, at the very core of service design is a concept that is rarely seen in human resources - the sharing of the design process.

We all know that data is critical to the design of impactful solutions, but we also know that the needs, wants and feelings of humans are rarely found in quantitative data alone, at least at the depth we desire. Big data may tell you the 'what', but it rarely tells you the 'why' and never tells you the 'how'.

HR cops a lot of criticism for being too far removed from what is means to be an employee, for not understanding the core business, and for applying an 'us and them' risk management view to the employer-employee relationship. Far from keeping employees at arms-length, service design invites employees into the design process, resulting in a more inclusive, diverse, empathy-based experience.

Designing with your employees:

  • Harnesses and develops the untapped creativity lying latent across your business,

  • Increases ownership of the success of solutions employees have designed themselves,

  • Improves the quality of idea generation (there is no-one closer to the employee experience than the employees themselves),

  • Builds innovative cultures in which co-creation, ideation and shared sensemaking are innate; and

  • Demystifies HR; pulling back the curtain and opening up the discipline to all your employees.

Anyone can adopt human-centred design. So whether you grab yourself a Service Designer, or tool up on the discipline yourself, it might be time to tap into that creative side ... I know it’s in there somewhere!

First published: 2016

Image: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Resources and inspiration:

[1] What is Service Design?

[2] How to create a Customer Journey Map.

[3] What is Human Centered Design?

[4] IDEO Design Toolkit.