Human centered design is an approach focused on the human element of designing a product. Taught by design schools and leaders in the design community, human centered design connects those who design products with those who will be using the products.
Human centered design strives to understand the perspective of the user as well as the needs and wants of that user. Designers who embody human centered design concepts include users in the design process and frequently prototype and reiterate their designs so the customer can use the product and feels empowered to make comments or suggestions.
As I was doing some research into human centered design, I found a list of key phases used by a design firm to help their team work through design projects with a focus on the human element.
The goal of human centered design is to fully understand the problem you are designing a solution for. By diving into the problem and communicating with the users, designers can fully immerse themselves into the community that will be affected by the design. By observing environments and communicating with users to fully grasp the problem at hand, designers can make educated and effective decisions without making assumptions that could lead the designer down the wrong path. Most important during the empathize phase is to observe and document user feedback.
After learning as much about the issues and the users as possible, the next phase is to define the real problem. What are you as the design really trying to solve? Most commonly, designers try and identify a problem with a mixture of problems and solutions, however as a human centered designer the most important question you must always have in the back of your head is “Why?”. It is important to phrase the actual problem in a way that allows for creativity.
Once enough time has been spent with the users to better understand their perspective, and an actionable problem has been defined, it is time to brainstorm with your team! During the ideate phase it is important to come up with as many solutions to the problem as possible. Often this can be accomplished with mind mapping sessions or affinity diagrams laid out on a wall with post it notes so the team can see all the different ideas. Sometimes it is appropriate to even include some of the users in this brain storming session to co-design the solution with end users. It is important to not place any constraints on these brain storming sessions – sometimes even the most impractical solutions can be scaled back to become more practical.
Designers can test their ideas and put them into action by designing prototypes. Prototyping is a low-cost way to experiment with your solutions. Prototypes can be physical or digital. The goal of prototyping is to get it in the hands of the users so that they can test the usability of the product and make sure it works. Prototypes are not finished products are generally considered a work in progress. Often, designers create multiple prototypes and frequently make changes depending on user feedback.
Test and Iterate
During this phase, the designers put their prototypes and ideas to the ultimate test. Product users are tasked with using the prototypes and identifying friction points. As users discover points of friction or usability errors, the prototype is redesigned and given back to the user. Back and forth between designers and users are crucial during this time. The end goal is to create a solution that accomplishes what users want and functions the way users feel it should.
Human centered design is critical when designing a product that people will want to use. By including the user in the design process and periodically presenting ideas to be vetted, design times are reduced, user expectations are met, and your final product is well received by its user base.
Design, DC. “What Is Human-Centered Design?” Medium, DC DESIGN, 22 Nov. 2017, medium.com/dc-design/what-is-human-centered-design-6711c09e2779.
Braga, Julia. “Is Human-Centred Design Broken?” Medium, UX Collective, 15 July 2019, uxdesign.cc/is-human-centred-design-broken-cac130eecc48.