What is User-Centered Design?
“People ignore products that ignore people” --Frank Chimero
User-Centered Design (UCD) is a multifaceted process integral to web development. Its core objective? To cultivate a profound understanding of a product's market and its end-users. The precise methods and tasks involved may vary depending on your project's specifics, including its nature, requirements, team composition, timeline, and development environment. Nonetheless, one constant remains: the paramount importance of catering to the user's requirements, needs, objectives, and feedback. UCD employs a diverse array of research and design techniques to engage users throughout the design process, ensuring the resulting products are not only usable but also accessible.
Let's illustrate this with a practical example. Imagine a client seeking to create a financial services application. UCD principles would come to the rescue in addressing pressing issues such as:
- Building Trust: How can the platform instill confidence in users when dealing with their bank accounts? Ensuring users feel secure is paramount
- User Retention: If new sign-ups abound but long-term users are scarce, UCD can uncover the reasons behind this issue and develop strategies to retain users
- Simplicity vs. Complexity: When users deem the product "complicated," UCD offers ways to measure task completion, identifying what works and what doesn't
Principles and Methods of User-Centered Design
- User Involvement: Users should be engaged from the project's inception
- Clear User Needs: Understanding the specific requirements and expectations of users that provide value for a product or service and enhance their experience is crucial
- User Feedback Loop: Incorporating user feedback is an ongoing process
- Iterative Design: A process to improve a concept, design, or product continuously. Designers produce a prototype. The prototype is then tested, and adjusted, and the cycle repeats with the goal of getting closer to a design solution for a given feature.
- Planning: Charting the project's course
- Analysis: Research and understanding user needs
- Design and Development: Ideation and prototyping
- Launch: Releasing the product
- Evaluation: Validating the product's effectiveness
- Back to Analyze: A return to analysis for further refinement
UCD encompasses various design aspects, including:
- Project management: Managing UX projects involves a blend of graphic and web design skills, marketing knowledge, and creativity
- User research: Systematic investigation of user needs, offering insights for design
- Usability evaluation: Focused on user ability to achieve objectives and satisfaction with the process
- Information architecture: Organizing information within digital products for ease of access
- User interface design: Ensuring the interface is accessible, understandable, and user-friendly
- Interaction design: Designing products and services based on user needs, contexts, and limitations.
- Content strategy: Ensuring content aligns with user experience, visual design, and business goals
Turning Empathy Concepts into Product Requirements
Empathy is our ability to see the world through other people's eyes, to see what they see, feel what they feel, and experience things as they do. UCD is all about turning empathy concepts (thoughts, feelings, frustrations, satisfactions) into specific product requirements and user goals, and not the opposite. Companies that focus on goals and metrics without considering their users won’t make products that people will love.
A famous case illustrating the importance of empathy when designing products is the commercial failure of Google’s first wearable product, Google Glass, launched in 2013. The head-mounted wearable computer, while being technologically impressive, failed to perform well. The commercial failure of Google Glass can be traced to Google’s lack of empathy towards users: voice-activated actions were socially awkward, the camera created a privacy concern for people around the Glass user, and user needs remained unmet.
In order to make a product that works for users, there shouldn’t be non-validated guessing and personal biased opinions. Every “idea” is a hypothesis that will be validated by information from user research and iterative testing.
UCD questions to consider when you are engaged in the product design process
1. How do we move beyond personal biases and focus on user needs?
- What is user-centered design?
- UCD principles
- Focusing on real users, not on personal attached ideas
- Let your users guide your idea to a product that they will love
The iterative design process is straightforward: identify a user need through research, formulate ideas to address it, create a prototype, and then test its effectiveness. However, a notable challenge in iterative design is overcoming implicit personal bias, a subconscious, involuntary thinking pattern influenced by our upbringing, culture, and environment. It shapes our perceptions of others based on factors like sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language, appearance, or age. To achieve exceptional design, we must actively reflect on these biases, identify potential pitfalls, and broaden our perspectives, all while promptly meeting the diverse needs of our users to prevent harm (Daniel Spagnolo, UXdesign.cc, 2020).
2. How can we learn more about the market/users by using different research/testing/feedback loop methods?
- It is ok not to be sure about what is your product/service
- Iterative design/development cycle
- Understand your users and they will reveal what the real market looks like
- Iterate from your new discoveries, and transform user empathy into product requirements/company goals
Studying user behavior yields valuable insights for guiding and evaluating product development. Multiple data collection methods, including online, paper, mobile, and kiosk surveys, longitudinal studies, website intercepts, online polls, and systematic observations, offer rich data. Incorporating analytics tools like Google Analytics enhances user research. By leveraging diverse research and testing approaches, product teams can make data-driven decisions, and create focused user stories that will help the team potentially exceed client expectations with a more effective product (Steve Bromley, Product Coalition.com, 2020).
3. Why are MVPs and the iterative mindset important?
- What is an MVP?
- Reasons to build an MVP
- Iterative mindset (UCD)
- Let users make your product better
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) contains essential features to satisfy early users and gather feedback for future development. It emphasizes delivering a streamlined product to save time, reduce dissatisfaction risk, and keep future expansion in mind. The iterative MVP process continuously tests and refines concepts based on user feedback, leading to an improved final product. This swift development approach can also expedite the client's return on investment (ROI) (Lizard.global, 2020).
4. How do you make products that people will love?
- What products do people really care about?
- What makes them impactful?
- Importance of user empathy during product design
- Understanding “your people”
- Usability heuristics
Products are for people and the design of the product should facilitate ease of use and using the product should be an intuitive and pleasurable experience for the user. User empathy cannot be emphasized enough when we are discussing the User-Centered Design philosophy. And, most importantly, it is vital to make it clear that the importance of empathy is only true when your focus is on what users need, instead of pushing products to market (Rita Franco Barroso, imaginarycloud.com, 2020).
Customer needs are essential features for fulfilling goals, and unmet needs often lead to dissatisfaction. In contrast, wants are additional features that influence purchasing decisions but won't necessarily result in adverse outcomes if unfulfilled. Needs address deficiencies in people's lives, motivating behavior, as illustrated by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which prioritizes basic physiological needs like food, water, and air before higher-level needs such as esteem.
Wants in User-Centered Design (UCD) encompass factors like ease of use, convenience, cost-efficiency, value, and style. Maslow's Hierarchy can guide product creation, revealing potential pain points and unconsidered problems for the client. Given that product development typically doesn't address physiological needs, starting higher up the hierarchy can be more relevant (Clint Fontanella, Hubspot.com, 2021).
About The SilverLogic
As an agile software development company, The SilverLogic employs user-centered design and development strategies to transform clients' vision into working products and reduce operating costs. From the discovery phase to long-term maintenance, we work collaboratively with clients from start to finish so users, staff, and/or customers get the experience they need to deliver the results your business deserves. Through double-loop learning, we empower clients to thrive in complex, evolving environments.