Solving Unsolvable Problems

Updated: Sep 10, 2019

Human-Centered Design


Have you ever wondered how successful businesses start? How do founders come up with great ideas which result in billion-worth companies? Here is an example with many people’s favorite breakfast – corn flakes!


In 1894, W.K. Kellogg made a discovery while seeking a more digestible breakfast alternative to baked bread for his brother’s hospital patients. One evening he accidentally left a pot of boiled wheat out overnight. The wheat became softened and when he rolled it out and baked it, each grain became a crispy flake.


In the years that followed, he was tasting new formulas, involving his brothers’ patients (the users) all the time and constantly iterating to finally design the corn flakes as we know them now. Today, Kellogg’s company is worth $22.5 billion.


Prior to this experiment, Kellogg’s professional experience had nothing to do with food production - he’s been broom salesman, but he possessed few important qualities – empathy, observation skills, perseverance, willingness to iterate and to learn from clients' feedback.





Without knowing it, Kellogg was applying human-centered design as problem-solving approach. He has been aware that he needs to understand the people he is trying to serve, their hopes, fairs, needs and pains.

Human-centered design is a unique approach to problem solving, one that can occasionally feel more like madness than method.

- IDEO

Human-centred designers believe that the people who face the problems, are the ones who hold the key to their answer. It’s about designing with communities, understand deeply the people they’re looking to serve, generating ideas, and creating new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs.


There are many “design principles”, but these 5 basic principles form the foundation for the human-centered design process:

  1. Human centricity – we are solving human problems, real human problems. We need to make sure that what we are trying to solve is a real problem, faced by our users and not just something in our heads.

  2. Cognitive and emotional empathy - great design comes from understanding people’s behaviours, thoughts, and emotions. We need to understandings people’s perceptions and feelings of a given situation.

  3. Creating possibilities - To make good design decisions, we must first create a large pool of ideas, to carefully assess them and select the best ones. Seldom would the first ideas you come up with be the best.

  4. Real outcomes - great design comes from a desire to make a real impact. Create something new is exciting, but not enough. If your solution is not achieving an objective, then it has not been well designed. Measuring and monitoring success here is crucial.

  5. Continuous learning - it’s all about iterations and nothing is set in stone. The design process doesn’t end. A solution, in any form, presents an opportunity to learn more about those who use it, there experiences, and the challenges and opportunities it addresses. These learning should then be used to further refine and evolve the solution.


Humans are at the center of producing, building, establishing, and developing our solution. Human-centered design is uniquely situated to arrive at solutions that are desirable by our customers, i.e. people want them. But in order to have a great design, we need to tick two more boxes: viability and feasibility.





Once we make sure we are on the right way with an appealing solution, we need to think how to make our solution financially viable and check if it is technically, organizationally and legally feasible.


Lessons learned from W.K. Kellogg - involve your users early, prototype to learn, don’t fall in love with your first solution, and apply the design principles. Enjoy the journey and be sure it is bumpy way to go, but it is worth!

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