What Is Human-Centered Design? Human-centered Design In A Nutshell

Human-centered design, also known as user-centered design, describes a framework that helps businesses understand the needs, wants, contexts, constraints, and behaviors of their users.  Human-centered design (HCD) is an approach that makes users the priority to develop useful products and services.

Understanding human-centered design

HCD enables the business to empathize with its users and develop human-centric ideas that solve their problems. Note that human-centered design is a broad and general design fundamental that is incorporated into other approaches such as user experience (UX) design and architectural design, among others.

The human-centered approach is an effective way to develop products that deeply resonate with the target audience and drive engagement, growth, and loyalty. Above all, it requires that the very people who are experiencing the problem are a constant and active presence during product development.

In addition to stakeholder involvement, HCD encourages product teams to immerse themselves in the lived experiences of the end user – irrespective of whether those experiences take place in a factory, home, office, or on the farm. Teams also need to understand that humans are dynamic and that their social, economic, and cultural context is influenced by their unique experiences and perspectives.

The five phases of human-centered design

Human-centered design should consist of five key phases. Let’s discuss these in more detail.

1 – Empathize

Human-centered design calls on the business to understand the people who experience the problem before creating a solution to solve the problem. 

This means designers need to speak with consumers directly and adopt a learner’s mindset. In other words, they must never assume to understand the mindset of another person and leave their biases and preconceptions at the door.

Information in the empathize phase can be gathered via interviews, focus groups, and field experts. Alternatively, the business can use diary studies, photo journals, or perform contextual enquiries to observe users in their natural habitat.

2 – Define

With the information gathered in the previous phase, it is now time to define the problem in terms of the actions a business wants to accomplish. Human-centered designers approach a problem by asking questions and not in terms of a problem-solution dynamic.

Each problem should be phrased as an open-ended question to allow for multiple, creative answers to be devised. These solutions are then verified by the design team to ensure every aspect of the problem is addressed.

Examples include:

  • What purpose does the product serve for a consumer?
  • How do consumers benefit from using the product?
  • Why would consumers prefer to use the product?
  • Who are the users of the product and does the design of the product cater to the attributes of these users? Why or why not?

3 – Ideate

As the name suggests, the ideate phase involves brainstorming as many answers to the problem question as possible. 

Note that all ideas should be encouraged in a team environment, with no one ridiculed for suggesting ideas that are unrealistic, unviable, or otherwise fanciful. When individuals are shamed for their ideas, the creative process suffers.

4 – Prototype

Prototypes are then created with the best or most viable ideas from phase three, which are basic, low-cost representations of what the final product will look like. For physical and digital products, models incorporating various potential designs will often suffice. 

For services, the model should contain a series of steps that can be simulated in the real world or a role-play scenario.

5 – Test and iterate

In the final phase, the business shares the prototypes with the end-user to collect feedback and make improvements over multiple iterations.

Teams should remember that the testing phase should not be used to defend their solution. Instead, it is more beneficial to think of it as a chance to learn more about the end-user. In other words, what do they like or not like about the prototype and why?

The process of iteration continues until each stakeholder is satisfied that the product has the potential to be brought to market.

Key takeaways:

  • Human-centered design (HCD) is an approach that makes users the priority to develop useful products and services.
  • Provided the end-user is actively involved in the process, human-centered design is an effective way to create products users want which drives brand engagement and loyalty. Product teams must immerse themselves in the lived experience of the end-user as a priority.
  • Human-centered design typically consists of five phases: empathize with the user, define the problem, ideate solutions, build the prototype, and test and iterate.

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