We live in a world where everything changes extremely fast; new products, new degrees, new careers, new methodologies. It is somewhat scary to imagine that school graduates will be in positions that do not even exist in 2020.
However, we are now witnessing a clear trend – companies no longer push products to the market. Instead, they focus on the user to personalise a product and at the end deliver what they, the client wants. This switch provoked some significant changes in careers. For example, whereas up till just a couple of years ago we saw a considerable number of sales positions, we now see more and more posts related to humans, for example, human-centered innovation, user-centered design, and the like. This trend is evident in companies that invest in innovation such as fast-growing startups (say Typeform) and large organisations (such as Banco Sabadell). Moreover, if you look at leading business schools and universities, such as IESE, Esade and Stanford, you will see that they have started implementing user-centered design to their programmes.
What is User-Centered Design?
User-centred design (UCD) is a collection of processes which focus on putting users at the center of product design and development. You develop your digital product taking into account your user’s requirements, objectives and feedback. A more formal definition is the one provided by the Interaction Design Foundation:
User-centered design (UCD) is an iterative design process in which designers and other stakeholders focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process. UCD calls for involving users throughout the design process via a variety of research and design techniques so as to create highly usable and accessible products for them.
— Definition of user-centered design (UCD) by the Interaction Design Foundation
User-centered design vs. Human-centered design: User-centered design is very often used interchangeably with human-centered design, but there is a difference in that it is a subset of it. Simply put, all users are humans, but not all humans will be your users (you wish!). Thus, user-centered design requires deeper analysis of users – your target audience. It is not only about general characteristics of a person; it is about particular habits and preferences of target users to come up with right solutions for specific problems.
User-centered design takes into account age, gender, social status, education and professional background, influential factors, product usage expectations and demands and many other important things that may vary for different segments. What is critical for some may be irrelevant for others. User-centered design is about deep research on users’ habits, from their interactions with the product to their vision of how the product should look like and behave.
User-centered design and UX: User-centered design improves the user experience. While it can be applied to almost any product, in this article, we will focus on website or mobile app development. It helps to understand users’ needs and preferences regarding features of a product, task, goals, user flows, etc. At the end of the day, it has become one of the most important user experience requirements – that of being user-centered. It should be implemented throughout the entire customer experience, no guessing, no personal opinion. What matters is what your users say and do. Every “touchpoint” that the customer has with the product should be analysed, well design and developed.
User-centered design in the commercial world: Unfortunately, there are still some companies that prioritise business goals over those of their users, prompting them to first design a product and only then search for people who would be interested in using it. User-centered design advocates the exact opposite. Before developing your idea, you need to find and speak with (representatives) of your target users first. This is because even though you have cool features, breathtaking technological capabilities and other awesome things, if you do not know your target, you have a big problem. Suffice to say that you will find yourself in a situation where, post-launch, you will need to spend a lot of money on redesigning your features or maybe you end up in a situation where you do not have enough interest in your idea to break even. You need to think about the end user right from the beginning.
In other words, user-centered design is about designing and developing a product from the perspective of how it will be understood and used by your user rather than making users adapt their behaviours to use a product. The idea is to offer a product which would support its users’ existing beliefs, values, attitudes, and habits.
As you may guess, the result of employing user-centered design to your process is a product that offers a more efficient, satisfying, and user-friendly experience for the user, which leads to increased sales and customer loyalty.
User-Centered Design Principles
There are five major UCD principles
- A clear understanding of user and task requirements.
- Incorporating user feedback to define requirements and design.
- Early and active involvement of the user to evaluate the design of the product.
- Integrating user-centred design with other development activities.
- Iterative design process
It is quite simple – if you change the design late in the process, then it will typically cost ten times more than if you changed it during the requirements stage. Analysis and feedback are critical. User-centered design makes sure that you design and develop products right from the beginning, exactly what your clients want.
The Essential Elements of User-Centered Design
- Visibility: Users should be able to see from the beginning what they can do with the product, what is it about, how they can use it.
- Accessibility: Users should be able to find information easily and quickly. They should be offered various ways to find information for example call to action buttons, search option, menu, etc.
- Legibility: Text should be easy to read. As simple as that.
- Language: Short sentences are preferred here. The easier the phrase and the words, the better.
What is The Process of User-Centered Design Like?
User-centered design starts by identifying the target end users of the product and specifying the context of use. The main objective is to establish why these users would be interested in your product and how they want to use it.
Then, it is important to group your data to formulate a set of requirements and user goals that must be met so as to ensure that the users’ needs are satisfied.
It is only after these two steps are completed that you start designing potential solutions. The design phase can be iterative in nature and can evolve from a rough concept to a complete design.
Take into account your goals, as you start this iterative process of product design and development. At the end, you need to evaluate the product you developed by doing, for example, usability testing to get users’ feedback. This process should be repeated until the best design is achieved.
These users’ requirements are found and defined through methods like focus groups, usability testing, card sorting, participatory design, questionnaires and interviews. Typically the following areas are analysed to get a better idea of what your target users want:
- Persona: To visualise it better, a persona is created at the beginning of the process to have an example of a target, who you are trying to reach. You can even come up with the name. It is a representation of a particular group of people with the same patterns; behaviour, needs, goals, skills, attitudes, etc. Persona helps to make right decisions about product features, navigation, interactions, visual design and much more. It helps you prioritise the design work, understanding what the user needs and what functions are simply nice to add and have.
- Scenario: It is a “daily life of” your target, of your persona. It is about problems persona has. Here, small details both emotional and physical ones, matter.
- Use case: It is a series of steps for the persona to achieve the goal.
Webcredible provides a handy guide to which technique to use and when:
The user-centered design process answers crucial questions about users, about their tasks, goals and beliefs. The following questions are typically asked during the UCD process: Who uses your product? What are their goals? What are users searching for? What are they interested in? How do your users see the process of completing a task? What do they say and how they do it? How easy is it for your users to understand what they should do using your product? How much time do users spend on figuring our how to actually do what they want to do? And many others.
User-Centered Design and Agile
Agile methods are becoming increasingly common in software design and development, with their collaborative customer focus and iterative, test-driven approach. They are gaining acceptance in organisations as an efficient and effective ways to developing software products that make a difference. And user-centered design fits very well with Agile. Mind you, user-centered design also fits in with other development methodologies, including the (dreaded) waterfall methodology.
Here you will see some advantages brought about by the incorporation of user-centered design with an Agile methodology:
- Customer Focus: All activities are focused on the user, on his/her needs by providing value through ensuring a useful, usable and engaging product.
- Iterative Development: Early and frequent delivery of working software contributes to project visibility, reduces project risk via regular feedback, encourages continuous improvement and enables early realisation of business benefits, time to market.
- Testing: Testing plays an integral role in every phase of the project life cycle. User testing is crucial for designing a product to ensure that you are working on the right thing at the right time.
- Transparency: As stated by Marc McNeill, all stakeholders are provided with maximum visibility into project progress.
- Cost reduction: Costs are reduced because users can understand and use products without additional help. There is also a reduction in training costs. Moreover, there is no need to spend time and money on redoing things.
- Higher customer satisfaction: At the end of the day, the user receives what they want and how they want. As you deliver what is requested in your target market, you guarantee increased sales.
- Risk reduction: As you work hand in hand with your user, you are sure you are going in the right direction.
- Productivity: As you always do what your user wants, there is less need to spend time on unnecessary things or features that users will not use or like.
If you look at leading companies like Mango, HSBC, Edreams and others, you will see that they went through an agile transformation and now they are adopting this user-entered approach. These two methodologies go together, and I believe that they are key to successful innovation.
Want to learn more?
If you’d like to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic, then consider to take an online UX course from the Interaction Design Foundation. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices. Good luck on your learning journey!
(Lead image: Depositphotos – affiliate link)