Human-Centered Design: How to create something people love

Human-centered design (HCD) is a framework to create products, systems, services or experiences that address the needs of those who experience the problem by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Also frequently known as design-thinking.

Why is HCD or design thinking so important? From the very nature of the framework it can help uncover unmet needs of the very people you’re creating the product for, reduces the risks associated with launching new ideas and also helps businesses learn faster about their products and target audiences.

Your potential product/service without HCD/Design-thinking

Whilst the process of human-centered design can come in many forms, there are 5 key phases that we like to stick to when applying the process to our own projects.


Learn about the audience for whom you are designing

Whatever we’re looking at designing, the core focus needs to be on the people who will be using the end product. Immerse yourself in their community to gauge a real empathy of how your design will affect them, understanding the challenges they’re looking to overcome and the goals they’re trying to achieve. We want to be asking as many questions as possible, rather than making assumptions to really understand who you’re designing this for. In what context (time, place, device) will this happen? Why are they using it?

A good way to ensure you cover all critical journeys is to use the following Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework from intercom:

When _____ , I/they want to _____ , so I/they can _____ .
For example: When a customer is on their mobile device and forgets their password, they want to get their password in a way that makes it easy to reclaim it via their mobile device, so they can continue to log in and access their news feed.


Construct a point of view that is based on user needs and insights

After gathering as much data and insight as we can about the issues in the empathy phase, we start to analyse and define what the problem is we’re trying to solve. Remember not all problems are worth solving and we need to keep asking why. If we’re able to solve a fundamental issue first, we’ll be solving the root-cause of many other issues.

Skipping this part could lead to designers solving the wrong problem, so however much time it takes, make sure to invest in the research stages of the process.

We must also look at how we define a problem, so that we can allow more creativity to tackling the issues. This way we’re able to start creating a variety of different solutions, constantly checking back against our statement to ensure we’re covering all aspects of the problem. Skipping this part could lead to designers solving the wrong problem, so however much time it takes, make sure to invest in the research stages of the process.


Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions

Moving on to the third stage of the process, we start to use the information gathered from the previous stages to generate as many new ideas to the problem as possible. This is particularly good if you’re able to do this in teams, writing the ideas on post-it notes and sticking them on the wall as you go. To avoid shutting down the creative process, we’re not looking to judge whether the ideas are practical, too over the top, etc. A potential bad idea might spark a fresh new idea further down the line, or just scaling back a crazy idea could be the solution needed.

Teamwork makes the dream work

If you have them available, you may wish to consider including a sample of your customers in this process. This way ideas are coming from the source rather than top-down assumptions. It is vital in this stage whomever is involved, to stay focused on the desires of the people you’re designing for and the problem you’re looking to solve. With this in mind, your ideas will eventually become the right solution.


Build a representation of one or more of your ideas to show to others

This is where ideas get turned into action. By creating inexpensive prototypes with specific features, we can begin to test with those who live with the problem to see if our ideas work. This can be done with models or with actionable steps that can be simulated. With each new prototype, we look to investigate different aspects of the problem and how each prototype might fix the problem, along with how we can look to make the next version of the prototype inherently better.

It’s worth noting that each of these prototypes are not high-fidelity and we need to ask what is the minimum amount of time we need to spend to get the best customer feedback as quickly as possible – this is your MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Test & Iterate

Return to your original user group and testing your ideas for feedback

No matter how much time you put into creating ideas and prototyping solutions, you must always test your solutions with real people. The feedback from these people is vital and key to improving your design. Sadly sharing amongst peers is subject to the false consensus effect – assuming other share the same beliefs and will behave in a similar fashion. You are NOT the user, and only testing with the real end-users will provide valuable feedback.

You are NOT the user, and only testing with the real end-users will provide valuable feedback.

It is also important when testing not to defend your product/solution. Your goal is to learn more about the people you’re designing for and what their problems are. What don’t they like about? What do they find easy to use? What do they have trouble doing? Why is that? Even during this stage, we look to tweak, alter and refine as new information is fed back. This can continue until we are happy we have a solution to the users problems.

A continuous flexible process

It’s important to adopt this user-centered approach as early as possible, giving everyone involved a clear understanding of how they can benefit the project and reduce the risk of conflicting initiatives. And while the above is set out in a linear fashion, the process is a lot more fluid and teams can often find themselves going back to a previous stage to gather more information, to look for better solutions or refine prototypes until everyone is happy the best solution has been created to solve the issues. The more you’re familiar with using the process, the easier it gets!

Design-thinking or Human-centered design can bring many advantages to your business along with your customers benefits:

  • Positive User Experiences
    People who experience good user experience through all touch points, both digital and physical are more likely to become loyal, and help build a great reputation for your brand.
  • Save time and money
    By spending time researching and testing with your end-users early, it’s most cost-effective to make any needed changes and will reduce the risk for expensive adjustments in the future. 
  • Increase sales
    Customers are more likely to buy into a product or service that meets their core needs and potentially become a long lasting repeat customer. Reducing the chance of them choosing a competitor’s product.
  • Better pricing strategies
    Your gained knowledge around user motivations and needs will help you identify the most lucrative ways to sell value to your customers.
  • Innovation
    Through the indepth research and prototyping stages, there is an increased chance to discover new innovative products and solutions previously unknown.

Applying Human-Centered Design

Overall Human-Centered Design is a process that allows anyone to participate in the design process of a product or service. By observing the user, and putting ourselves in their position, we can understand in-depth what the experience is really like. Using that data and understanding to make better informed decisions and build greater solutions.

To build a really useful product, you don’t need the latest technology, masses of funding or completely unique ideas, you just need to understand people.