How does Human-Centered Design work?

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Designing for people is the essence of User Experience. Therefore, the user must be at the center of any design process. But what does “user” mean in this context?

The user could mean “customer”, as in a person who pays to use your product or service.

The user could mean “target audience”, as in the group of people you want to reach with your message.

The user could mean “audience”, as in anyone who comes into contact with your product or service.

So how do you decide which meaning to use? How do you know whether you should be designing for customers, target audiences, or all audiences? This is where Human-Centered Design comes into play.

Human design is an approach to designing which takes into consideration the audience 

Wikipedia defines Human-centered design as an approach to problem-solving commonly used in the design, management, and engineering frameworks. 

It develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within context, brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing the solution.

In this article, we will explore what Human-Centered design is, the phases of Human-Centered Design and how it is different from user-centered design. 


What exactly is Human-Centered Design? 

Human-Centered Design is exactly as its name suggests. It is a process that puts the people we’re designing for at the center of a design to create solutions that are intuitive, desirable, feasible, and viable.

Human-centered design is all about stepping into the shoes of the people you’re designing for; coming up with endless ideas; turning them into prototypes; testing them with the people you’re designing for, and eventually putting the most suitable solution out in the world.

The concept of human-centered design was introduced during the Stanford University design program in 1958 by Professor John E. Arnold. Though the concept was introduced in the 1950s but has been evolving over time to meet new challenges.

Human-centered design is not just about how things look, it’s about how things work. It’s a mindset. A step-by-step process starts from empathizing with the people, defining the problem, ideating the solutions, creating prototypes for the best ideas, and then testing them with the people to know if they work. If not, make changes and refine them, and then again test them. 

Let us now take a look at them one by one. 


Phases of Human-Centered Design (HCD)  


Phase 1: Empathize 

“Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their perspectives.”

When we put ourselves in the shoes of the people we’re designing for, we start to see the world through a new lens, we start to leave behind all the preconceived notions and outdated solutions.  

The first step of human-centered design is to understand your target audience — who they are, what they need, and what they want from you. It is all about getting close to your user and gaining insights into their lives. Rather than assuming what problems people experience, this phase involves interacting one on one with the people and adopting a learner’s mindset. Through observation, interviews, and other qualitative research methods, by getting out of the studio or office early on in the process, you can gain insights that contribute to more meaningful solutions later on down the line.


Phase 2: Define 

In this phase, we look at all those rich insights from phase one and start learning as much as we can about the problem. This is where we define the problem and our target user group. Defining the problem we aim to solve, gives us focus on what issues need solving. We also look at user needs, wants, and aspirations within this phase. While defining the problem statement, ask why? This phase focuses on framing a problem we need to come up with solutions for. A good problem statement is clear, concise and allows designers to focus on the key activities that they want to accomplish.


Phase 3: Ideate

This stage is where we create ideas around the solution to solve the problem that was defined in the previous phase. The ideation stage is typically filled with brainstorming sessions and workshops, where we work together as a team to generate ideas as well as collaborate with others who are involved in the project. This stage focuses on coming up with as many ideas as we can without judging or discarding them for not being good enough. 


Phase 4: Prototype

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Prototypes are simply low-cost estimations of how the solution will work. A prototype can be anything, a paper sketch or a tangible object, or a digital lookalike. Prototyping helps to choose the best ideas from the bucket of ideas you came up with within the ideation stage.  However, do not consider it as a final product and spend hours refining it. The goal here is to convert ideas into viable prototypes that can solve the problem you are working upon. 


Phase 5: Test and Iterate

If you aim for perfection each time you build a prototype it will take you ages to come up with a prototype. And guess what, it will still be incomplete because you never tested your product. That is why Testing is a vital step. If you test the product with the people who are actually facing the problem, you can improve the usability without wasting resources on one prototype. This phase involves testing the prototype with the problems, making changes based on the feedback received, and refining it as much as you can.


Difference between user-centered design and human-centered design

User-centered design and human-centered design are often used interchangeably. However, there exists a silver lining between both. 

User-centered design is about making products that are easy to use; something simple, something intuitive. On the other hand, human-centered design is about making things that people love. It’s about creating a meaningful experience for the user.

In user-centered design, you focus on the users’ goals and motivations and build a product around those needs. However, the human-centered design takes it a step further, by also keeping in mind the emotions of the users while using your product or service.

User-centered design starts with your customers’ needs and desires, then builds outward from there, hence it’s sometimes called “outside-in”. However, in a human-centered design, you look more holistically at their lives, their environment, and their emotions. Through this approach, you can create an experience that will have a lasting impact on your customers’ lives.

The main difference between user-centered design and human-centered design is that the former focuses on the key needs of the user, while the latter takes into account the user’s emotional needs.

The former designers often focus on a product’s functionality and usability to ensure that it satisfies its intended purpose. But with the latter designers also consider a product’s desirability and perception by using empathy to understand how users feel about its use.

While user-centered design aims to focus on the user, the human-centered design tries to make sure that its focus is not only on the user. It’s a more holistic approach.

In short: User-centered design focuses on the needs of the user. The human-centered design focuses on human needs.

Writing Credit – Pranjali


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