What is Human-Centred Design?

4 min readOct 28, 2020

You may have heard the term Human-Centred Design before. Did you scratch your head wondering what the heck does that mean? You’re not alone. In short, Human-Centred Design is a process for solving complex problems.

And User Experience designers are always solving complex problems. So, how can this process help you in your UX journey? In this article, you’ll know why Human-Centred Design is important, and how the process works. Let’s dive in.

The Definition

IDEO notes that Human-Centred Design (HCD) “sits at the intersection of empathy and creativity.” HCD is a problem-solving approach that aims to make products and services usable and useful by prioritizing the human perspective. As technology becomes more sophisticated, there is the tendency to think tech is the catch-all solution to people’s problems. Have a problem? Throw technology at it.

What’s missing is the fact that people use these technologies. And people are different from one another. They have different families, jobs, aspirations, values, you name it. Therefore, the HCD process focuses on people and their needs, requirements, and most importantly, their contexts.

If you’ve ever tried to explain how a smartphone works to your grandparents, then you know what I’m talking about. As designers, we can use HCD to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.

To solve a problem, we need to empathize with the people for whom we are designing. We need to understand their problems, and include them in the design process.

The Process

So, what does this process look like? Despite the numerous diagrams that you’ve probably found online, it’s actually very simple.

  1. Empathize: Do the research to understand the user’s context. For example, what do they like and dislike? How savvy are they with the latest tech? You’re trying to understand the problem before designing a solution. In this stage, you should know what you want to learn, ask a lot of questions and make few assumptions. Knowing your users will enable you to empathize and create impactful solutions.
  2. Define: You’ve collected all this data. Great! What is the data telling you? It’s time to organize and analyze your data to frame the problem appropriately. Not all your data may be useful, so it’s your job to synthesize it into valuable insights. You likely won’t be able to solve every problem. In this stage, you’re creating a sandbox for you and your team to play in so you can direct your design efforts and maximize impact.
  3. Ideate: You know the problem you’re trying to solve. Now, it’s time to brainstorm solutions. Get out your pen and paper and start sketching and doodling. Take inspiration from other fields. Maybe your favourite TV show has some ideas (I’m looking at you, Kubrick). And don’t forget the human! Co-design with your stakeholders. Let your creativity run wild. You’ll have some terrible ideas, but you might stumble upon something valuable.
  4. Prototype: Now it’s time to narrow down your ideas into something that’ll meet users’ needs. If you’re designing an app, then start building low-fidelity wireframes. Maybe you’re making a physical product. Well, get out your lego, popsicle sticks, and glue. In this stage, you’re making your abstract ideas into something tangible. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be concrete enough so you, your team, and the user are all on the same page.
  5. Test: You made something. Now, get it in front of the user. Observe how they interact with your prototype because you might be surprised how they use it. Make sure whatever you’re testing is aligned with the project’s goals. Then, you’ll take that user feedback to your team and voila, you’re done!

Well, not quite. The HCD process is an iterative cycle. Maybe your testing revealed insights that force you to reconsider product requirements. Cool! Now that you’re equipped with new knowledge, go through the process again. If done right, you should end up with a solution that caters to your user’s needs in a meaningful way.

Key Metrics

But that’s not all. For a solution to truly make an impact, you should consider three key metrics:

  • Desirability: Do users need it? Will they use it?
  • Feasibility: Can you build it? What technical and operational resources do you need?
  • Viability: Can your value chain and business model support and benefit from this solution? How does your solution contribute to the sustainability of your business and society at large?

If you keep these metrics in mind, you’ll hit the sweet spot for innovation. Applying a HCD approach can help designers tackle important problems. The best part is that the work is never done. Go out there and find a problem to solve! Be sure to check out the IterateUX community for more!




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