Person-centric design, what is it?

Person-centric design is a way of perceiving systems and data that focuses on the people rather than the system.

A person-centric approach is a strategic win for your business.

This article introduces the area and its advantages and offers a way of updating your approach without throwing out the baby and the bathwater.

Focused on solutions from a business / manager perspective this article helps managers start discussions with development teams.

In three sections we look at

  • Data storage concepts
  • Person-centric basics
  • Reworking existing systems
  • The headaches and the benefits

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Data storage concepts


An introduction to databases is available to read here.

However if you’re already familiar with Microsoft Excel.  A database is a workbook.  Each sheet in the workbook is a table.  So a database can have many tables in the same way that one Excel workbook can have many sheets.

You can put anything on any sheet.  The more complicated a sheet gets the harder it makes it to navigate around.  The more data that is on a sheet the slower things go.

A database has dedicated tools to keep it fast when the amount of data vastly increases.  Database mechanisms allow numerous people keep the same workbook up to date in real time.



A noun is the name of a person, place or thing.  When a developer builds a system they need to name the tables, the sheets in the workbook.

Let’s start with a simple systems.  You have a login.  “Form” stores a few questions on it.  Log out.

The first noun is the login.  Second would be form.


Repeating data

In this over simplified example you’ll see how data is pointless as in the form we don’t actually know what question 1 and question 2 mean.  This is why the information systems pyramid is handy to understand.

If we log in three times and log out three times, with this structure, the data in the Login sheet will update but we will lose the history as it’s not recorded.

For this reason we need to add another storage mechanism, a 3rd sheet.  We need to name it, so LoginHistory.

Column B links the Id numbers of the Login sheet.  So LoginHistory is showing that Joe Bloggs logged in on three different dates and times, linked by the Id number 1.

At this stage, this is all good systems development.  The focus is on the events that happened.

This is a natural way to build systems over time as a developer.  You build what you need as you go along.  Adding new tables / sheets to your system to accommodate new data you need to store.

Unfortunately this approach over time adds up to lot and lots of new tables / sheets.  What if we had 30 forms over the history of our work.

Suddently a question comes in such as a Data Access Request for GDPR and the customer wants to know all the data you’re storing on them.  You are going to have to search each form separately for mention of them.

Over time this becomes very difficult, timely and costly to manage.

Your functional approach is NOT wrong yet makes a different perspective difficult.


Person-centric basics


What we’re talking about is how you need to perceive the data rather than the structure being used.

In one way many Forms are fine but when the perspective changes to Person, then you have a not so helpful structure.

So how can we fix this?  Well there are two things that need to be considered.


Primary data

Our Login sheet actually represents people.  Each entry in the sheet is unique.  Each person has a number that represents their uniqueness.

So what if we take a sheet dedicated to Customers.  Each customer will only appear once in the sheet.  Every entry has a unique Id number.

We add to this sheet the most key information to the customer.  Name, date of birth, whatever our business needs.

Consideration must be given to what information you keep about a customer and why as data laws in different countries dictate what you can and can’t keep with and without permission.  If it’s in one place it’s far easier to manage.


Repeating data

We are going to end up with repeating data for the same customer like LoginHistory.

Every time we try to chat to the customer or the customer emails or wants updates.

So if the design of the data has one centralised Customer table for Ids, we can use the same numeric linking in the repeating data as we did with Login.

This link means the computer system can scan hundreds of Form like tables looking for this unique Customer Id and provide a Person based view.

A person-centric view.


Centralised Data

Now that we know that one sheet in our workbook is just going to be unique customers we add to that all the most important customer information.

It becomes the central repository of information.  We also want this repository to be clean.

So when work is done, the central record is updated.

When we have a contact with a customer in some part of the business the central record has a link and gets updated.


Centralised updates

The Internet allows you to have a database available to the whole world.  It sits on a server and everything connected to the Internet could potentially access it.

You add some sensible security to it to make sure that only the people and systems you want to access it can.

The database will have something called an API with it.  An Application Programming Interface allows different programs to go in and perform CRUD actions you permit.

CRUD is Create a record, Read a record, Update a record or Delete a record.

The API means you can have many systems chatting to a single central source of information.  Your systems can be door swipes, system usage, log in to websites, mobile app usage, signatures at the doorsteps, contact centre interactions, basically anywhere and any how the customer interactions with your business.

API calls are the bread and butter of many systems consequently these calls allow diverse systems update and adapt.


Reworking existing systems

Build your centralised person-centric repository

Person-centric design
Person-centric design from

Starting and building your first central repository is the matter of making a choice.

Put into the information that is most important to view as a central view of the person.  Here is an example that could be used by an Insurance company.

Into this central view there are basic details and company details.

There are also marketing and legal permissions such as marketing permissions.

The key events that happen in the person’s life that are important to the person as a customer such as dates of renewals are also stored.

Now you can start to work with other systems.


Data Linking

Most other systems will have spare fields or information fields that can be used.  What you can do is use this field to store the person-centric Id for this customer.  That’s all it takes to link the systems.  A common reference number.


Very old systems

Some systems just cannot be changed.  Every system has to have some sort of unique identifier.

Even on a hand written piece of paper it’s possible to write ID:123.  Then photographing it to make it digital is a very quick way of making something complete non-technical into a searchable data record.

With a good system you can link old codes and new codes and allow the systems translate the information in real time.  The computer looks up the central record and can search all linked records.

So long as you treat your person-centric record as the core of your business you won’t be tied into complicated reporting solutions.



The headaches and the benefits

Linking up

Linking systems is a data cleaning exercise.  Whether you like it or not your data needs cleaning.

This cleaning exercise may seem like a massive overhead but how much waste time and cost in legal fees if a GDPR request comes in and you can’t meet it in time.

It is more effective to focus on core systems than tons of smaller systems around the periphery of your business.

You can also get companies to come in and help clean up your data.


Adding events

When an event happens this person, such as they log into your public website, a small API call is made.  This updates the central record.  Websites can do API calls in their sleep.

Mobile apps provide the same real time API call facility.

If you have a fancy phone system it will be able to do API calls as the call arrives.  This is often called “screen popping”.  A call arrives with the agent and the record accessed in real time.

Email systems when managed through a work management system, can look up by email address and link automatically.

When dealing with a customer face to face or at a till, the data management systems can link records.


Working with a data warehouse

A data warehouse can be a powerful tool in a business arsenal.

When you employ a data warehouse you have access to funky analytics as a result of the warehouse updating from every system you use through one central source.

A data warehouse can do predictive things like make suggestions on what best to sell a customer

As the output of the warehouse is centralised back to the person-centric view it means any information generated can be shared with every system in real time.




The list of benefits

A person-centric approach is a strategic win for your business.

The list of benefits is extensive once the initial data tidy and system linking is complete.


  • Single Customer View – all product lines enables greater empathy and easier identification of opportunity to sell
  • Focused up sell / cross sell capability
  • Easier to understand and use, thus reducing training and support costs
  • Quality and associated performance increases
  • Competitive advantage, for example by predicting best next action though a data warehouse


  • Customer eXperience (CX) enhanced providing competitive advantage, customer retention and market promotion
  • Increased usability for people with a wider range of capabilities and thus increasing accessibility
  • Improved user experience, reducing discomfort and stress for management, staff and customers


  • No administrative duplication
  • Improved business metrics and understanding of the business
  • Increased productivity of staff and the operational efficiency of the business
  • Contributing towards sustainability objectives
  • Improved security operationally and historically


Personal Note

I’ve applied this solution in a number of businesses with varied real world challenges.

It really does work and is very achievable with a huge variety of systems and technological capability.

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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