When we design a new product, it’s always
essential to understand who and how people will use it. Without this
understanding, there is almost no chance of
creating a product people will love. “People ignore design that ignores
people” is a famous quote by Frank Chimero. And this quote perfectly summarizes
the importance of user-centered design. User-centered design is about gaining a
deep understanding of who will be using the product.
The companies that apply UCD practices in
their design process focus on the user and create products that are aligned
with user expectations. The fundamental principle of user-centered design is
that if you gather data from users and incorporate your findings into product
design, you are more likely to create
products that people will like.
In this article, we will discuss what
user-centered design is, what the key principles of UCD are, and how to
introduce them in the product design process.
What is User-Centered Design?
User-centered design (UCD) is a collection
of processes that focus on putting users at the center of product design and
development. When a product team develops digital products, it takes into
account the user’s requirements, objectives, and feedback. Satisfying user’s
needs and wants becomes a priority, and every design decision is evaluated in
the context of whether it delivers value to the users. User-centered design
gives you a way of adding an emotional impact into your products.
User-Centered Design Principles
design is based on a few fundamental principles that can be applied for the
product design process:
- Users are involved in the design process from the very beginning. Critical design decisions are evaluated based on how they work for end-users.
- Importance of requirement clarification. The product team always tries to align business requirements with user’s needs.
- Introducing user feedback loop in the product life cycle. The product team collects and analyzes feedback from users regularly. This information helps the team to make more user-focused decisions.
- Iterative design process. The product team constantly works on improving user experience; it introduces changes gradually as it gains more understanding about their target audience.
User-Centered Design and Design Process
Many product teams rely on the five-stage design process proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school). That process includes the following stages:
User-centered design can be applied for all stages of this process. Interaction Design Foundation explains how requirement clarification can benefit the design process and what process the team should follow to formulate the requirements better. That process looks like this:
- Understand the context of its
- Specify user requirements
- Design a solution
- Evaluate against requirements
techniques that can help the product team to design a
better user experience:
The job of UX designers is to envision what
their users should experience; research
helps to gain this understanding. The goal during this stage is to understand
who we design for.
Personas are archetypes of real users. It
is a representation of a particular group of people with similar behavior,
needs, goals, skills, attitudes, etc. Personas make
it possible to bring your users to life and help understand their problems
better. This understanding allows designers to make the right decisions
about product features, navigation, interactions, visual design, and much more.
To create a proper persona, you need to
have a clear understanding of your target audience—people who will use your
product. It is critical because if you fail to understand your target audience,
chances are you will end up creating a wrong solution for them.
Specify the context of use and scenarios of interactions
When a product
team has a clear answer to the question, “Who uses our product?” the next
question arises — “How they will use it?” The main objective is to establish
why these users would be interested in your product and how they want to use
it. It’s always important to understand that people use products to achieve
particular goals. They see your product as a solution to the problem they have.
Thus, when you work on creating a context of use, always start with a problem
that a user faces. By clearly formulating a problem, you will have more chances
to create a better use case for your product.
When it comes to
writing the actual scenario of interaction, it’s vital to highlight a few
- User environment. Where the
interaction takes place. Is it a quiet office space or a loud street?
- Medium. What device a user is
using. Is it a desktop computer with a large screen or a mobile phone with a
- Mood. What is the emotional
state of a person? How the user feels at the different stages of the user
2. Concept Ideation
Once you have a deeper understanding of
your target audience and the problem you’re solving, it’s
time to create an actual solution.
User journey mapping
To create a proper
solution for the problem, it’s essential to look at the user interactions with
a product or service holistically. Most of
the time we want our product/feature fit in the existing ecosystem/product that
users use. That’s why it’s vital to understand what typical interactions will
After you have
this understanding, you can start to visualize the
journey. It’s possible to use various techniques for this. I recommend
using a user journey map and storyboarding. A user journey map is an excellent
tool for UX designers because it visualizes how a user interacts with a product
and allows designers to see a product from a user’s point of view
Storyboarding uses a story of interaction
in its foundation, and this makes the interaction more realistic. Also,
storyboarding allows you to convey the emotional state of a person during the
different parts of the journey.
Creating information architecture
architecture is the art and science of organizing information in products. And
it’s essential to work on IA before you move to the design state because it
will influence the way you design particular screens/pages.
When working on IA, you can use a tree testing technique. Tree testing is a method of examination of your information architecture. In essence, this technique is about an examination of the structure of your product. You set a number of questions, and participants will try to think of the answers in the context of the navigation structure.
Validation is not just a step of the
process, it’s a constant activity that happens along the way while you work on
a solution. It’s recommended to evaluate design decisions through usability
testing with actual users.
Observe how users interact with your product
Observation is a very powerful technique
for collecting qualitative insights about your users. When you observe how real
users interact with your product, you gain a lot of information on what works
well for them. There are two techniques for validation design decisions –
usability testing and contextual inquiries.
Usability testing will help you understand
what problems users face when they interact with your design. Contextual
inquiry is a user research technique that involves observing and interviewing
people while they perform tasks in context. This technique is a mix of
qualitative research and user interviews. The person who conducts a contextual
inquiry (a researcher) observes how participants perform their tasks and has them talk about what they are doing while they
are interacting with a product.
What’s important to remember about UCD?
UCD is about turning empathy concepts into specific product requirements
Empathy-based concepts such as user’s
thoughts, feelings, frustrations take a central stage in user-centered design.
Product designers should be able to turn empathy-based concepts into systematic
requirements such as the user’s goals and interaction habits—something that a
whole team can use to build a product.
No guessing, no personal opinions
Non-validated personal opinions about
design (also known as personal bias) are something that prevents designers from
creating good design. In UCD, every design decision should be implemented based
on the information you have about your users and validated during the process
Involving all team members in product design
UCD works much better when a
multidisciplinary team is taking part in the design process. When a team
consists of people with different backgrounds and disciplines, it can produce
more creative design decisions.
UCD and business
The environment where a team creates a
solution has a tremendous impact on the outcome. If the environment prioritizes
business goals over those of their users, this rarely ends up in creating truly
user-centered products. Thus, UCD requires changing the focus—from business
goals to user needs. In reality, product management should always try to
achieve a balance between business and users’ goals.
Every product development is a journey. The
product team makes a lot of decisions along the way, and the outcome is often
defined by those decisions. If we prioritize user needs and wants, and truly
strive to create a user-focused design, our journey will end up with a product
that users will love.