You are not the centre of your customer's world: Embracing customer centric design

Dr Rebekah Nicholas


6 min read

Here's a hard reality for businesses or anyone looking to develop a new product or service: you are not the centre of your customer's world. They probably don't get up thinking about your product in the morning or are eager to learn about your latest feature release. And as much as they love your product now, they will unlikely use it forever.

We all use products and services because they add value to our lives and meet a defined need or desire. But just as our motivations and the reasons we engage with products change – so do our customers. Knowing more about these people and what motivates them is critical to designing things people will use (and hopefully continue to use). This is where customer centric design comes in.

Let's unpack this further, looking at a contemporary example that illustrates the realities and complexities of keeping customers engaged.

We need to understand people's (changing) motivations.

Let's assume you already know who your customers are. Do you know what motivates them to use your product over another? Everyone has different motivations for their product and service choices, and these are almost guaranteed to change over time. Likewise, the internal and external factors contributing to their decisions about where to spend their time and energy will change, too.

Take digital health technologies as an example – products like Fitbits, fitness apps, etc. Sometimes, people will start using these products after a massive health scare. They have an (internal) motivation to use the product to get healthy, so they live longer. This motivation is vastly different to that of fitness-conscious users who might use the same product to track and possibly improve on their already strict exercise and health regimens.

Motivations can, of course, change over time. For the first group of users, the fear of the health scare may fade, along with their incentive to maintain healthy habits, and they may lose interest in the product. It can be the same with the many external factors in people's lives. For example, a loyal customer might get a more intensive job, move house, welcome a child into the world or lose a loved one, and the role a product plays in their life may change. Or it may not be needed at all.  

Understanding who customers are and what motivates them can help companies engage them in the first place and keep them engaged by continuing to align with their changing needs. This understanding is a key part of customer centred design.

We should understand the way people engage.

Many companies tend to think: "If I can just fix this one thing, it will fix everything". They assume that updating the technology or offering more features will keep customers happy, and they'll continue to use the product. Many fail to account for how people engage with a product, which will dictate what is and isn't attractive to them.

Considering the example of digital health technologies again, it's common to see users more interested in the technology than in any improved health outcomes. They'll enjoy using the product – and may track every element of their lives – but don't necessarily have strong health goals. Then, some customers use the product to support the good habits they already have. They don't need constant reminders to exercise and can get quickly bored by run-of-the-mill fitness programs.

If trying to attract or re-engage the first set of customers, a company should offer new and exciting features and tailor communications around the benefits of the technology. In the second instance, a better strategy would be to provide customers with new techniques to increase their health levels and speak to them about building on their current goals.  

Understanding how customers engage with your product is another key customer centric design principle. It allows you to design experiences that resonate with their behaviors and preferences.

We must keep talking to our customers.

You're done once you know your customers, what motivates them, and how they use your product, right?


Any research you do is good and relevant for today (hopefully for some time), but it isn't enough to do it once. You need to be checking in with your customers regularly so you can continue to learn about them. With ongoing research, you may be aware that people's motivation, or how they engage with your product, is changing. It's also good practice to conduct research with groups of people who might not yet be customers, as there may be a whole group of users you have yet to consider (a different age group, for example).


Lastly, if your product or service still needs to be put on the market, test, test! Take your product to your potential customers and see what they like and dislike. Listen to those insights, then use them to refine your product. Keep testing (in stages if possible) and refining until you've got a product you know customers will like and want to use.

Continuous customer engagement and research is essential for maintaining a customer centric mindset. It ensures you stay attuned to evolving customer needs so you can adapt your product and design accordingly.

In conclusion, embracing customer centric design requires understanding your customers' changing motivations, how they engage with your product, and committing to ongoing customer conversations. By putting these customer centric design principles into practice, you can create products and experiences that truly resonate with your target users, even as their needs evolve over time.

Interested in knowing more? Let's chat