Published: Oct 30, 2018

Back in my last article, I was pretty emphatic about the idea that technology plays a massive role in successful employee experience strategies. One of the concepts I brought up related to that was design thinking, and I think it’s worth spending a bit more time discussing the application of that in the context of HR processes and technology. Now, design thinking is a giant area, so I’d like to further focus on a particular aspect of it: responsive design. Lost yet? Don’t worry, I promise it’s all going to come together.

Design thinking UX designer responsive design concept on ipad

In a nutshell, design thinking is how user experience (UX) teams build technology that works for people, and responsive design is a way to deliver that technology to different devices. So why should HR professionals care about this stuff? Turns out there are a couple reasons:

  1. Your empoyees care about it, even if they call it something different.
  2. The concepts driving it are core to HR and complement your team's priorities on a technical level.

Let’s see how all this connects, shall we?

It all starts with empathy

Design thinking is a cycle of continuous improvement. This diagram from the Interaction Design Foundation does a great job of showing the steps and how they relate to one another.

Design thinking diagram

You see that? The key to the whole process is empathy. It’s all about walking in the shoes of the users you’re trying to build something for and learning about their needs and goals. Is this starting to sound familiar? This is the same thing HR teams go through when building engagement strategies, total rewards programs, onboarding processes, and many other kinds of initiatives.

The goal of all those activities from an HR perspective is building what we call a positive employee experience. We’re creating environments and experiences that we hope people will be passionate about working in, which we know boosts their productivity. One big way we try to support that is through HR technology. On the technology side of the fence, UX is what equates to employee experience, so leveraging design thinking as a framework when you evaluate HR technology vendors and looking for tools built with responsive design in mind will only make your overall employee experience strategy stronger. When your employee experience and technology strategies are both in lockstep about prioritizing employee needs and fitting in with their daily lives, you ensure your workforce will be engaged and will adopt the solutions you create.

Employees expect consumer-grade technology

Like I said earlier, your employees care about design thinking and responsive design even if they haven’t ever heard of those terms. They reap the benefits of good design every day in their personal lives. For example, just think about social media and search engines. No matter where you are or what device you’re using, it’s easy to connect with friends, keep up with news, and look up virtually any piece of information. That’s a ton of power that’s being used every day by pretty much everybody, and it creates certain expectations among employees that carry over to work.

The bad news about these expectations is that historically business technologies have failed to live up to them. The good news is that by paying attention to things like design thinking and responsive design, we can pick the applications that do live up to those expectations and provide consumer-grade experiences for our employees. Do your employees seem frustrated with your current HR technology? What devices do they commonly use during the workday? How much time do they spend at a desk? Do they often try to access information or complete HR tasks outside of working hours? These and other questions like them are worth asking at your organization. When you get a clear picture of how your employee experience looks today and couple that with how your people would like it to be, you can choose the right HR technology to help you get there.

Good design empowers both employees and HR

The most important thing to take away from all this is that there’s more than just aesthetics at stake when we talk about design in HR technology. There’s a real opportunity here to both empower employees and give HR professionals back more time to spend on strategy. After all, good responsive design enables strong employee self-service, allowing workers to do things like enroll in benefits, swap shifts, check pay, and manage performance anytime, anywhere without the need for HR or manager oversight. This frees up managers and HR professionals to keep improving processes and achieving business goals instead of just keeping the lights on.

Design thinking and responsive design are of course massive topics, and there’s no way I could cover them sufficiently in just one blog post. What I hope is that I’ve sparked some ideas for you about how to take a few plays out of a UX designer’s book and apply them as you set up your HR technology infrastructure. With the clear rise of responsive design currently taking place in the human capital management space, getting ahead of the curve and asking the right questions is more important than ever.