User-Centered Design: An Overview
An overview of user-centered design, including examples, principles, methods, and further resources.
What is User-Centered Design?
“People ignore products that ignores people” --Frank Chimero
The user-centered design (UCD) process is composed of several methods and tasks related to website development that focuses on gathering a deep understanding of the product’s market and who will be using it. The type of site you are developing, your requirements, team, timeline, and the environment in which you are developing will determine the tasks you perform and the order in which you perform them. But the most important factor is the product’s user requirements, needs, objectives, and feedback. A wide range of research and design techniques are used to involve users along the way throughout the design process, to ensure that products are usable and accessible to them.
For example, if a client wants to create a financial services application and needs to understand how users might perceive and interact with the product, UCD principles would be effective in solving pain points like:
- How does the platform build trust? - the financial services application will be accessing the end user’s bank account, how does the user know the app won’t misplace their money?
- The client is getting new signups, but no long-term users.
- What can be done to study why the users aren’t returning and develop strategies to bring them back?
- The client is getting feedback that the product is too “complicated” but no further feedback. How does the client measure task completion to see which tasks users find easy and valuable and which are too frustrating to continue?
User-Centered Principles and Methods
- Users are involved in the design process from the very beginning
- Important to clarify user needs/requirements
- Introduce a user feedback loop in the products life cycle
- Iterative design process
- Analyze (Research, understand the user and their requirements)
- Design and Develop (Concept ideation, prototyping)
- Evaluate (Validation)
- Back to Analyze
UCD is iterative design/development, based on user/market feedback.
Design methods can be grouped into the following segments:
- Project management:
Project management in UI/UX is responsible for managing User Experience projects. The primary objective is to improve a user's interaction with a platform. In addition to having skills as both graphic designers and web designers, project managers need to have marketing knowledge and creativity.
- User research:
User experience (UX) research is a systematic investigation of the needs and requirements of target users, in order to provide realistic contexts and insights to design processes. UX researchers use various methods to uncover problems and design opportunities.
- Usability evaluation:
Evaluation of usability focuses on how well users are able to learn and use a product to achieve their objectives. It is also about the satisfaction of users with the process. It is gathered by practitioners using a variety of methods that gather user feedback regarding an existing site or future plans.
- Information architecture:
Information architecture emphasizes the organization of information within digital products. When designers create apps and websites, they arrange each individual screen so that users can find the information they need with ease.
- User interface design:
User Interface (UI) Design involves anticipating what users might need to do and ensuring that the interface consists of easily accessible, understandable, and easy-to-use elements. Information architecture, interaction design, and visual design are all combined to create UI.
- Interaction design:
Interaction Design (IxD) is the design of interactive products and services in which the designer's focus extends beyond the product to consider how users interact with the product. Designers strive to customize output based on the needs, limitations, contexts, etc., by closely observing users' needs, limitations, and contexts.
- Content strategy:
Content strategy ensures that all content within the user experience is delivered at the right time, place, and format; integrates seamlessly with visual design, brand strategy, and functionality; is usable, accessible, and supports 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 in point 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 the device didn’t seem to solve any specific user needs.
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.
Some User-Centered Design questions to consider when you are engaged in the product design process:
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 a simple concept. Once a user need has been identified through user research and ideas have been formulated to meet that need, you then develop a prototype. After that, you test the prototype to determine whether it meets that need effectively.
A significant challenge in iterative design is overcoming implicit personal bias. It is a form of involuntary thinking that occurs below the level of your awareness and is a shortcut your brain uses to relate feelings and thoughts to others. The country, culture, and environment in which you have grown up from a young child will affect how you think and feel about others. The subconscious mind instantly, and unconsciously, associates thoughts and feelings about someone purely based on their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language, physical appearance, or age, without seeing any gaps in your beliefs — until someone else points those gaps out to you, or you actively seek to uncover these biases.
For great design to happen we must be able to reflect on our implicit biases, identify places where things can break in our work, shift our perspectives away from what we've always known, and meet the needs of our diverse users as soon as possible before potentially harmful impacts emerge. (Daniel Spagnolo, UXdesign.cc, 2020)
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
Studies of user behavior provide valuable information to product teams for guiding and evaluating their work. Many forms of data collection can be used, including online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys and kiosk surveys, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations. Analytics, such as Google Analytics, can also be included in this type of user research. By considering all of the data culled from various methods of research/testing/feedback loops, product development decisions can be driven by data about user behavior which should result in a more effective product that may be beyond the initial requirements of the client. (Steve Bromley, Product Coalition.com, 2020)
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) consists of just enough features to satisfy its early users and collect feedback to inform future development. The essence of an MVP is delivering a product with only the essential features while keeping future development in mind. Having a smaller, more focused set of features enables you to not only save time and effort but also reduce the risk of customer dissatisfaction with the final product. The process of creating and improving an MVP is an iterative one, so concepts are continually tested and improved based on the feedback that users provide which ultimately results in a better product. Additionally, since the product is developed as expeditiously as possible, the client's ROI is more likely to be expedited as well (Lizard.global, 2020).
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 the features and characteristics that are required for a customer to meet their goals. When needs aren't met, customers often become unsatisfied or angry. In contrast, wants are features that could help customers decide whether to buy a product over its core functionality. So, what exactly constitutes a need? A need is something that would solve a deficiency in a person’s life. A need motivates behavior. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines basic needs that must be prioritized and as levels are met, you can proceed to the next level. So basic physiological needs (e.g. food, water air) must be met before addressing Esteem (eg. respect, confidence, status).
Wants, on the other hand, are aspirational and if not attained are unlikely to cause an adverse outcome. Wants in UCD can include ease of use; convenience; cost-efficiency; value; and style. So, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can help you decide what kind of product to create. They may help uncover pain points or problems to solve that the client hasn’t considered. Since product development rarely deals with physiological needs you can start a little higher up the hierarchy (Clint Fontanella, Hubspot.com, 2021).
About The SilverLogic
An agile software development company, The SilverLogic leverages user-centered design and development strategies to transform clients' vision into working products and reduced 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. Leveraging double-loop learning, we help our clients grow and succeed in complex and changing environments.
User-Centered Design Resources:
User-Centered Design Principles & Methods
User-Centered Design Principles
Stop adding features to your product. Start crafting behaviors
Keep an eye on your product’s big picture with UX Research
Benefits of User-Centered Design
Benefits of User-Centered Design
Usability Heuristics / User Empathy
10 Usability Heuristics Every Designer Should Know
Empathy in UX Design: What It Is and Why It’s Important
What Is Empathy in Design Thinking? A Comprehensive Guide
Minimum Viable Products (MVP)
Minimum Viable Product: Understanding The Importance of MVP in 2021