Human-Centred Products 💛

Welcome! I’m Ivan Landabaso, VC at Join 1.8K+ entrepreneurs discovering new tech waves, startup trends & leverage bi-weekly (+ surfing 🤙)


  • 🌊 Wave: Human-Centred Products.

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  • 🇪🇸 Deals: Spotahome, Mediktor and more!

This week my friend Fiona Maciver, with whom I had the pleasure to work with at Facebook Reality Labs, shows us the path to building products people love. She’s a really cool human, is a PhD in Design Strategy and is now running her own UX Strategy gig. Let’s go!

Human-Centred Products 💛

😟 Problem

  • Building products that meet real customer needs is exceptionally difficult.

🤩 Solution

  • Taking a human-centred approach to product research + development.

⏳ How we got here

Folks at tech firms can be divided into two camps: ‘engineers’ and ‘everyone else’. Where the firm is set up to allow engineers to dominate, the result is lots of cool tech which everyone else is then tasked with shoehorning into product opportunities with valid value props. But, if the hierarchy is flipped, the result can be mediocre products constructed around ambiguous audiences. The most successful startups temper these approaches by first pinpointing hyper-specific customer problems. Think Marshmallow, Shopify, Cazoo. In this paradigm, the focus is on creating an amazing offering that people want, desire and need (even though they might not know it yet). These firms keep products focused, and the customer at the centre of the build.

❤️ How to be human-centred

Helping customers meet their ambitions is what distinguishes the good from the great, and creating an exceptional experience is the essence of being human-centred. So, before shipping new products or features, we need to be sure of three things: 1) that we’re building the right thing that customers desire and will use, 2) that people will care about what we’re creating, and 3) that it will solve a legitimate problem. This is what makes products that people love.

But there lies the rub: investigating this can take a long time, be super costly, and potentially lead us down the wrong rabbit hole. Quality research requires robust methods and artful execution. So how can startups that don’t have research resources still do due diligence to identify the most pressing needs, keep tabs on how these change, and stay customer focused? Here are five steps for being more human-centred:

  1. Core problem comes first, solution second

This is the essential, number 1 mantra for any startup. The customer’s number one problem should be at the centre of new products, features, propositions and strategies, rather than the other way around. Yet legends of epic product fails emerge year on year. So how can you identify the most urgent problem? At Stripe, PMs stack rank to ensure that teams are solving the problem, not just any problem. To sort priority problems in the roadmap, Intercom uses the RICE framework

  1. Make customer experience the heart of OKRs

This step requires understanding what specifically matters most to customers about the problem. Connect with customers to find out what they value most, and then integrate this into your OKRs. For example, it could be the speed and ease with which users can get an accurate quotation; the minutes taken to charge an electric vehicle; or, the number of taps to add products in a CMS. Understanding these metrics is critical for retention. Once you’ve identified precisely what impacts the experience, be laser focused in meeting and surpassing those expectations. This is where strategic, human-centred companies excel.

  1. A little and often wins the day

Insight gathering should be a dynamic, evolving activity.

Talk with customers frequently, and test prototypes from the outset. Research doesn’t have to be formal when you always have your wavelength tuned. Pay attention to what’s going on: every conversation, datapoint and trend can add to your knowledge of how customers think and what they need. Remember that studies don’t have to be exhaustive, yielding all the answers at once. When it comes to usability, frequent but quick and dirty rounds of testing work: the optimal sample per round is 3-5 users.

  1. Adopt an experimental yet objective mindset

The main objective of research is learning, and then acting upon those insights. It’s about being proactive: sensing the market, and making informed decisions based on a balance of evidence and intuition. Iterate based on what you learn, but also keep within reason. Some datapoints can be misleading. For example, people will often tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than what they actually believe. Stay in tune with your intuition.

  1. Operate an open source policy

Being human-centred starts from the inside out. To be in sync with your audience, both existing and new, leverage the eyes, ears and contacts of the entire team. But crucially, watch that you’re not keeping your vision within that team. Big lesson: your customers aren’t like you. By connecting widely across networks, ideas are opened up to a wealth of knowledge and insights, and it’s this diversity that identifies flaws and reveals untapped opportunities. We’re inspired by how Groove talked to 500 customers in 4 weeks.

🚀 Today's Market Map


Different phases of development will require different approaches to research. At Maciver Inc., we structure projects into 3 broad phases: Learn, Innovate, Build + Test. To stay human-centred from beginning to end, we craft methods at each phase to generate insights that will be appropriate and actionable at that exact point. Note that we loop back and forth as knowledge is generated.

Market Map

The market is awash with specialist tools for performing design and UX research, but sometimes the basics are the best. Here are a few we rate.

👌 Hacks

  • Know your audience - understand and find empathy with how they think and feel, their goals, ambitions, needs and problems.

  • Learning is incremental: Test, learn, iterate and test again. And do this throughout development, beginning to end.

  • Test early to learn quickly.

  • A little research is better than no research at all.

  • Don’t get attached: Sack off any ideas that don’t fly in the research.

  • Use low-fi methods to start off: A DIY approach can be just as effective as all bells and whistles (e.g. LinkedIn, Google Forms, Trello).

🐇 Follow the White Rabbit 🕳️


Being human-centric always sounds great, but in practice, it’s really hard work. By being open in your approach and sources, yet having an underlying structure to do that successfully, you’ll get to understand your space, hone a unique proposition, and ultimately make stuff that people love.

Curious and / or looking to step-up your product game? Get in touch 👇

About Maciver Inc.: We are a human-centred insights and strategy consultancy, specialising in the tech, automotive, commerce and education sectors. Get in touch with us here.

🦾 Reflexive Impulses

Chances are you have (just like I do) a pretty unhealthy relationship with your phone. Andrew Huberman is an awesome source of inspiration for launching experiments that will help you identify (and squash) negative reflexive impulses.

Here’s one you should try:

💵 Recent Deals In Spain

You love startups and want to enjoy a Spanish lifestyle? Come join the Spanish startup ecosystem. Here’s a list of recently funded startups:

And that’s it! Would really appreciate a share on Twitter if you enjoyed it 🙏🙌