Guide to human-centered product design and delivery



In the last year, perceptions and realities have changed. There is a radical shift in how people live, with remote working and online interactions now being the norm instead of being an option. It raises a vital question for product engineers, designers, and businesses- How to innovate rapidly when expectations and behavior change quickly? The answer lies in the adoption of a human-centered product design

In the Human-centered design or HCD process, the creators of customer journeys, products, and even policies invest themselves in the perspectives and lives of real people. They try to comprehend motivations, needs, and roadblocks. Solutions are continually prototyped, and feedback plays an integral role in deciding the final product outcome. The idea isn’t to build advanced products but to build readily acceptable ones. 

What is HCD (human-centered design)?

Human-centered design or HCD is a problem-solving method that puts the customers’ needs first to tackle issues. For instance, the recent COVID19 crisis sparked a mass shift to remote working, which raised technical and collaborative problems. The problems were tackled with a rise in remote collaborative tools, such as video conferencing platforms. 

To implement human-centered design for your creative process, you need to know your customers deeply, empathize with the problems they’re facing and offer solutions they can embrace. Human-centered design means creating products that solve the struggles and issues of customers and help them better their lives. 

At its core, human-centered design is:

  • Collaborative and creative
  • A design philosophy for the creation of products, services, and even experiences
  • Deeply focused on the behaviors, needs, and challenges of the customers

Human-centered design is the best way to create mobile and web applications favored by users while meeting the organization’s goals. It is about putting human beings (users) at the heart of the design process. 

The three elements of HCD are:

i. Empathy – Understanding the customers’ needs, wants, and pain points and empathizing with their problems to find the right solution.

ii. Business needs – Coming up with a product design that caters to the consumers’ wants and meets the brand’s objectives.

iii. Creativity – Appealing and attracting consumers with aesthetically appealing and creative designs that boast of simple navigation. It leads to offering an excellent user experience.

Human-centered design requires the use of real context, direct interaction with people who will use the product, and rapid prototyping.

Take Spotify, for instance. The app disrupted the music industry by making it cheaper and easier to listen to music. The product showed that all earlier methods of purchasing music were problematic even before anyone realized it. Thanks to Spotify, music was found in one place with a small monthly fee.

Also, Fitbit is an excellent example of products designed with humans in mind. Fitbits and products like these are undeniably human-centered as they recognize the challenges of people with maintaining and tracking fitness goals. The product is designed with the user in mind and tells the user how many calories they have burned, encouraging them to get more exercise and much more. Furthermore, Fitbit even offers other health-related information, such as breathing rate, heart rate, skin temperature, oxygen saturation, etc.

The importance of human-centered design

The human-centered design process’ importance to product design and its potential impact on the bottom line cannot be underestimated. HCD ensures better products that solve real-world problems for users.

Failure is inevitable if designers and product teams create products without considering the people who will use the products. You can be sure of your product having a slow adoption rate or failing in the marketplace if you don’t ask the right questions and avoid involving the end-users from the start.

A crucial component of the human-centered design process is user research. It is the stage where questions reveal themselves and helps designers to solve design problems even before they have started designing a product.

What project types benefit from HCD?

i. UX design

In the case of UX design, it doesn’t matter if you’re designing a web or mobile app. Using HCD can help uncover the users’ needs and the features and components you should include in the app.

ii. Service design

Service design refers to the type of services offered to clients or customers. For example, it could be a phone or Internet service, banking service, or government service. Service design typically involves multiple touchpoints, and taking a human-centered design approach will quickly help meet users’ needs.

iii. Experience design

Designing an experience requires in-depth user research to understand what users want. If you design an experience that users don’t like, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

iv. Product design

Products are designed for their use by customers. If the product doesn’t solve the critical issues people face, it will fail to achieve traction in the marketplace. An HCD approach ensures the product is designed according to what the customers want.

v. Business design

Business design may look at company culture and employee experience or investigate inefficient, siloed processes that touch various departments. You can streamline the process by adopting a human-centered design approach.

Human-centered design V/s User-centered design

Digital product design is much more than friendly UI elements and pixel-perfect mockups. Similarly, humans are not just a collection of finger or eye movements.

User-centered design (UCD) and human-centered design have a lot of similarities. Both focus on the importance of designing products according to the users’ actual needs, wants, and desires rather than forcing users to change their behavior to use the product.

However, they are not entirely similar. While human-centered design recognizes the importance of emotional, behavioral and environmental contexts, the user-centered design does not. 

HCD encourages designers not only to see users of products but human beings with complex, real lives. UCD treats them as users of products.

Another vital difference is that while both approaches place user testing at the core of the design process, the human-centered design also involves humans in the process. As a result, stakeholders, team members, and decision-makers have an opportunity to take part in the design process and make accurate decisions that reflect the organization’s realities. It is a team effort, and everyone’s opinions matter.

The process of Human-centered design

i. Discover

The first step is about observing the consumers, learning about them, and being open to creative possibilities. The goal is to discover the needs and wants of the people who you are designing for. Next, you need to identify the pain points, patterns of behavior, and places where people have a hard time doing something.

ii. Define

The next step is defining the problems users face and shortlisting the most important ones you can solve.

iii. Ideation

In the ideation stage, you have to identify opportunities and design high or low-fidelity prototypes. The best way to ideate is to get your team together and brainstorm. The focus here is to develop a solution or idea through collaborative efforts to win over your end-users.

iv. Prototyping and testing

In the prototyping phase, you have to build a prototype of your idea. This makes your idea tangible and provides you with something to test with the users. There’s no need to create a high-fidelity prototype right away, but one that you can test with your target audience.

When building a prototype, your focus should be to create something that would require minimum time and investment. It would help if you got user feedback as soon as possible to go ahead with your idea or shelve the idea altogether and brainstorm again.

Remember that the purpose of designing a prototype is not perfection. Instead, it is to ensure that your solution is what your users are seeking.

After prototyping, the next vital part of the HCD process is testing. Once you know what you have to do, you need to start testing to ensure that the product will be helpful to the end-users.

Test it with real people so that you can get unbiased, accurate feedback. Then, use the feedback to improve your prototypes before launching the actual product.

v. Planning and implementing

Once the end-users have validated the usefulness of your solution and you’ve perfected the design, you have to launch your idea. If you are designing apps, software products, or websites, you need to repeat the processes from phase one. With every new update, you need to observe your end-users, design for them, and use their feedback.

Human-centered design and design thinking – are they different?

Human-centered design is a creative approach that solves the most critical problems faced by humans. It is the backbone of the product design process. The process starts with involving the people you are designing for, and it ends with discovering a new solution that solves the biggest challenges faced by the users.

On the other hand, design thinking is an approach to innovation centered on humans. The designers’ toolkit integrates the people’s actual needs with the possibilities of the latest technology and the requirements for success. Innovations are reliant on a few elements of human-centered design research, but it also balances other elements. You can achieve the balance with the help of design thinking, and it lets businesses find the sweet spot of viability, feasibility, and desirability. It takes into account the desires and wants of the people.

At a glance, HCD is:

i. A human-centered approach to innovation

ii. A focus on the development of solutions to common problems to ensure users find what they need

iii. An approach that not just involves humans understanding their problems and wants but also takes into accounts the objectives of the business

At a glance, design thinking is:

i. A framework that enables businesses to redefine issues and seek solutions that might not have been seen or heard

ii. A process that tests and challenges the assumptions that designers or product managers might have

iii. An iterative process that comprehends and also empathizes with the users

iv. A non-linear process

v. Human-centered design is focused on looking at minute details. And, it is a way of enhancing the user experience and usability of a specific product or service. Design thinking, on the other hand, looks at the bigger picture. It is focused on creating products or services that solve issues. The products consider the latest technologies.

vi. Human-centered design is a mindset, but design thinking is a process.

vii. Even though they’re different, they can be used in conjunction. You can use the toolkit (design thinking) and the mindset (human-centered design) to create superior products or services. You’ll be solving the genuine problems faced by users. Both stakeholders and users will be involved in the product development process, making them a successful combination.

4 Principles of HCD

i. The spotlight is on the people (users) – Whatever the design, always think of the people who will use the product. Keep in mind your product is a tool to help users reach their goals efficiently and quickly.

ii. The right problem needs to be found and solved – All issues are not worth solving. It is essential to choose a problem that caters to the masses.

iii. Everything is a system – You cannot solely focus on one part of a user journey. For instance, enhancing the local experience doesn’t mean forgetting to offer an excellent overall user experience.

iv. Iterate on solutions – Ideate, prototype, and iterate solutions to ensure people will use the product you have created.

Have you integrated Human-centered design into your process yet?

Businesses can achieve success when they work on solving everyday consumer needs. Ensure to do thorough research and collaborate with your team to find great ideas and extensively test those ideas. Focus on people and design a digital product that significantly improves their lives.

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