Human-centered design should be at the heart of the entire product development process. It should define the structure and philosophy behind every design, development and business decision related to the product.

While human-centered design can be perceived as a threat to financial gain, product performance and client satisfaction, teams who give human-centered design appropriate consideration find that all of these important project goals can fall comfortably under the umbrella of user-experience.

What Is Human-Centered Design?

Human-centered design, or user-centered design, is just that — design carried out to have a specific impact and benefit on the people using it. It is the process of creating products with human psychology and user perception in mind. It is careful, assumption-free design, informed by testing and analysis of real-life experiences.

Demographic, values and context all impact how people interact with a product. With human-centered design, those factors — the behaviors and circumstances of the people using the product — drive the shape, form and features of the product.

Human-centered design is critical to creating products that you’re confident people will use.

>> Learn about our UX design services and how we reduce the risk of product failure with ClickModel™ and user-tested software prototyping.

Human-Centered Design: Not Just for Designers

Why Human-Centered Design is Everyones Responsibility Image

We agree with Dave Thomsen in his article on Wired, “Why Human-Centered Design Matters,” that design is not about making a product pretty:

“Of course, colors, typography, layout and graphics — the classic elements of visual design — play an important role in the overall impact a digital product experience has on users. But pixel-perfect mockups and Dribble-friendly UI elements are just one component of a well-designed product.”

The word “design” may immediately bring to mind a product’s look and feel. But for a product to be truly human-centered, everything from the interface, to the features and functionality must be built with the user in mind.

Because human-centered design encompasses every aspect of product development, everyone involved in creating the product must orient their work and goals around the user experience.

Victor Rodriguez, a UX designer and human-centered design advocate at Praxent, puts it this way:

“Designers and engineers are partners in experience design and should be working in lockstep, holding each other accountable for every decision: Is this what’s best for our users? Is this the best product experience we can provide?”

Engineers famously tend to focus on the performance of a product, while designers are known for their focus on creating a product that delights the people using it. Both are needed, and both must work together. The best products are created when the two achieve balance underneath the umbrella of human-centered design.

The User’s Experience is the Most Important Experience

The worst possible outcome in a product development project isn’t when the client notices a bug and calls out the developer. It’s not when beta testers identify an issue in the system. The worst-case scenario is when a significant error hinders the end user’s experience.

A company’s brand goes beyond their logo. It’s more than any single message, or piece of marketing. A company builds a brand by creating meaningful interactions with its audience, not only in person, but via websites, mobile applications and other digital products.

If an error is prominent enough, or if a piece of software does not do what it is intended to do, the impact on the company’s reputation and future success of the product may be profound and immediate. Customers could move on and order from a competitor. They may close your website or delete your mobile application.

The user’s experience is the most important experience. It has the most far-reaching effects on the financial success of all product stakeholders.

While of primary importance, keeping the user’s experience front-of-mind is not easy. The user’s experience can feel distant or irrelevant to the people responsible for day-to-day product development and client relationships.

Those teams who learn to constantly remind each other and their clients of the humans on the other side of the interface will have the healthiest outlooks on product development. They will be the least likely to run off course for the sake of short-term relief or requirements that seem important at the time but fail to matter when the product gets in front of the user.

Creating Creative Culture & 10 Human-Centered Design Questions Every Product Team Needs to Ask

Every developer, designer, project manager, client or team member who impacts how a user engages with and perceives a product is a designer. But most people don’t think of themselves as designers unless it’s in their job title.

If a product development team really wants to prioritize human-centered design, their number one challenge will be overcoming the collective view that design and development belong in their own separate compartments.

Overcoming this mindset means creating a culture where everyone is design-empowered. At Praxent, our designers do this by including a feedback loop about the product’s user experience not only with actual users but with each team member at every stage of the project. We ask the business analysts, the solution architects, the product and project managers and the developers to provide feedback at each design milestone, including user research, business strategy, workflows, wireframes, comps and prototypes.

To implement human-centered design, product teams must align on the same vision for the end user and the primacy of that vision.

As we collect feedback on design and how it will shape the user’s experience, we focus discussion around questions that inspire user empathy. Here are 10 of those questions that every team member should be asking to align on human-centered vision for a product:

  1. What is the real need for this product? Does what we’re building target that need?
  2. In what context or environment will this product be used?
  3. What is the journey like for a person using this product? How and why did they arrive at using the product?
  4. What is our product vision? Is this an MVP or something for future release?
  5. What constraints, challenges and opportunities exist in the development, design and usage of this product?
  6. Have we built and designed the product in a way that it is reasonably easy for someone to learn how to use it?
  7. Is the product accessible to those with various disabilities?
  8. Can the necessary digital platforms and environments support the product software?
  9. Does the product effectively and efficiently help users accomplish the tasks for which they are using it?
  10. Who will the core users of the product be, versus casual users? What are the differences in their behaviors with the product and the contexts in which they will be using it?

Reaping the Benefits of Human-Centered Design

Users aren’t the only ones who benefit from human-centered design. Companies selling user-focused products enjoy greater profit, and teams who implement human-centered design experience positive changes in the way they operate: as product users are given center stage, potential for short-sighted decision-making is mitigated by a balanced vision of the bigger picture.

Human-centered design leads to products that fit seamlessly into the lives of those who use them. It’s not only the key to thoughtful digital products, it’s the oil in the product development machine.