User-Centered Design: Process And Benefits

Don’t put the cart before the horse when you design things. The sooner you show your prototype to the actual users and get the feedback, the easier it will be to look at the design from the user’s point of view. Let's go behind the scenes of the design process and discover what user-centered design really means.

Two young fish meet an older fish, who asks them “How’s the water?” The younger fish look at each other and say, “What’s water?” They’re so surrounded by it, that it’s impossible to see.

The most important realities are often the hardest to see and talk about.

In the design process, we should not forget about the water we swim in. The users are the most obvious reality for designers. Let’s go behind the scenes of the design and discover what user-centered design process is. This movement started in the 1980s when designers and computer scientists began to work together towards focusing the design of computer software around users, and not around computers.

What is User-Centered Design and How To Make In User-Centric Way?

User-centered design offers solutions to numerous problems and creates a unique chance to design together with communities. User-centered designers deeply understand the people who they are looking to serve, dream up scores of ideas, and create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs. Six phases of the UCD process diagram are described in this guide:

•    Specify the use context — collect information about their users’ needs;

•    Specify clear business requirements — the designers and the stakeholders provide detailed specifications for the new product;

•    Create unique design solutions — building a solution, from rough concept to finished design;

•    Evaluate designs — through usability testing with actual users;

•    Implementation — the process of developing and delivering the product;

•    Deployment — the final product is frequently evaluated, as consumer needs evolve and change.

User-Centered Design: Definitions And Main Characteristics

1. Definition of User-Centric Design (UCD)

User-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving: it starts with people, and ends with individual solutions that are tailored to their needs. When you understand the people you are trying to reach and then design from their perspective, not only will you come up with the unexpected answers, you will also come up with ideas they will embrace. UCD is both how you think and what you do.


UCD Development Structure

Over the last few years, many companies have included user-centered design (UCD) in their organizational strategy. IKEA, Lego, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple shifted their focus on the emotional relationship between their products and the consumer, instead of focusing on the technology. Apple applies user centered design methods to study new products and whether they meet consumer needs.


UCD Information Structure

Motivated interdisciplinary teams don’t create solutions for people, they create together with the people they want to impact. User-centered design makes use of empathy, optimism, and an open mind. These are some of the key characteristics of user-centered design:

  • UCD is empathetic. We pay attention to people, and put ourselves in their shoes. The community is integral to creating the result and cherishes it. If you take the time to listen and understand people, you can prevent disasters like $1.3 billion the Los Angeles Unified School District spent on 700,000 iPads for every student. The administration didn’t buy in, teachers were not trained, the technical support was not sufficient — and students, of course, abused them. After spending at least 20 minutes in each of these schools, the officials behind this project realized that iPads were not at the top of the students’ list of needs, because fewer than half of the students displayed the sufficient level of academic performance.
  • User-centered design is iterative: when we test, fail and try again. This process develops an understanding of the user’s needs through a combination of research, interviews, generative methods, and tools like brainstorming. UCD largely includes users at all user-centered design steps. We depend on feedback from everyone involved.
  • User-centered design is interdisciplinary. It provides a common language that enables specialists in several disciplines (ethnographers, psychologists, software and hardware engineers), as well as stakeholders and end users to work together. Jay Trimble, who works for the Lunar Rover Mission at NASA, explains how the agency integrated user-centered design techniques into its Agile workflows. NASA also employs ethnography methods of UCD and user interviews, user observations in context, a lot of wireframing, lots of prototyping, and journey maps.

As a result, user-centered design not only works in schools to impact education — it helps in the design of products, and spaces, and systems, and services — to drive social innovation and impact in areas such as health, economy and the environment.

2. Exploratory Research And Goals of User-Centric Design

User research is all about talking with people about their challenges, goals, and constraints. But there will be moments where you’ll need more context, history, or data than a man-on-the-street style interview can provide. Talk with the people you’re designing for directly through personal, group or expert interviews. There’s no better way to understand their hopes, desires, and aspirations.

User centered design principles adheres to the following responsive factors:

  • A clear understanding of the users, tasks and environments;
  • evaluation-driven design;
  • considers the overall consumer experience;
  • involves the consumer in the design and production process.

User-Centred Design Process

1. Specify the Use Context


Identify the people who will use the product, what they will use it for, and the conditions under which they will use it. Observe people’s lives, hear their hopes and desires, and get smart about your challenge. Get inspired by the international INDEX:Award: “Design to Improve Life” in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is the world’s most subsidized design award in the humanitarian field. One award-winning prototype is the effective plastic water filter, LIFESTRAW (Denmark), which costs $3 to produce. The designers of this project don’t propose a general solution for the quality of drinking water and also don’t oppose the privatization of water. They just proposed a solution for a specific time and space.

The user-centered design approach focuses on users’ needs and goals, and designers should try to fit their products to the people they are intended to serve. If you think this is a very difficult task, start to practice user-centered design and you will quickly change your mind.

2. Specify Requirements


User-centered design arrives at solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. By starting with people, their hopes, fears, and needs, we quickly discover what’s most desirable. But that’s only one lens through which we look at our solutions.

After determining a range of solutions for the people, we start to research what is technically feasible and how to make the solutions financially viable. It is crucial that design solutions increase the number of loyal users and attract investment.


As you solidify your idea and start to test it, you’ll need to remain mindful of your business requirements. Above all, refine your design idea and move toward implementing it by asking these simple questions:

  • What’s your revenue stream?
  • What key partnerships will you need to forge?
  • What resources are vital to your operation?

3. Create Design Solutions


This part of the UCD process may be done in stages, building from a rough concept to a complete design. Here you’ll make sense of everything you’ve learned, generate tons of ideas, identify opportunities for design, and test and refine your solutions. Turbo Tax’s web app is an example of an intuitive design solution that uses human language in its design.

You have to learn on the fly, open yourself up to creative opportunities and trust, as long as you remain grounded in the desires of the people you design for. You will come up with lots of ideas, some too insane to work, some too crazy not to try, and you will toss out the bad and improve the good. Making things helps you analyze, develop, and test your ideas. When you use your idea to build a simple, tangible prototype, it gives you something to put right back into the hands of the people you are designing for. Without their input, you may no longer know if your solution is on the right track. Keep iterating, testing and integrating the feedback until you get everything right.

4. Evaluate Design


Don’t put the cart before the horse – do usability testing with the actual users. The sooner you show your design to the actual users and get feedback from them, the easier it will be to look at the design from the user’s point of view. Evaluation is as integral in the user-centered design process as quality testing in software development.

We still do not have the perfect user-centered mobile communication technology yet, but we are moving in the right direction. It seems like both iOS and Android are constantly improving and learning from each other. The visual experience becomes more realistic, yet easy on the eye. For example, the translucent screens in iOS give a hint of the content behind instead of blocking out what you were doing before. This is similar to focusing your eye on something. The reality behind you doesn’t disappear, but becomes fuzzy while you are reading on your mobile or computer.

5. Implement


In the implementation phase you’ll bring your solution to life, and to the market. You’ll build partnerships, refine your business model, pilot your idea, and get a reliable solution.

What no one tells you is that the best way to build empathy with the people you’re designing for is to immerse yourself in their worlds. IDEO is well-known for its user-centered design practice. For example, IDEO’s design team worked on a mobile app for the Chicago nonprofit organization, Moneythink. The goal of the app was to reinforce good financial habits among low-income teens.

The design team conducted its research in the following way:

•    by attending the workshops that Moneythink offers in schools, and talking with students; •    conducting interviews about their personal finances, what kind of tools they use, and how money flows in and out of their lives;

•    touring the neighborhoods and seeing where students live, to discover their living conditions;

•    visiting check-cashing stores and prepaid mobile phone stores to understand the financial services this community uses; and

•    by immersing itself in the social apps students use most: Instagram, Kik, Snapchat.

By immersing themselves in the students’ physical and digital  the team arrived at some key insights. Ultimately, they noticed that, for these teens, money was highly social. For example, it came in on birthdays, and flowed out while in the company of friends. It helped them to prototype the Moneythink app design. The team found that by adding a social component to the Moneythink app, they could help drive better financial habits.

6. Deployment


When you’re on the verge of getting your product out into the world, you’ll need to discover if you’ll have the impact you want. There are lots of ways to run an assessment — sometimes it’s either your solution makes money, or it doesn’t. But if you’re trying to change a community’s behavior or increase service adoption, you may need a more nuanced approach.

If besides tracking qualitative indicators you also collect insider information, confessions and anecdotal feedback, you’ll be able to recognize the genuine outcomes of your work and synthesize everything you’ve learned. Compare these outcomes to your team’s goals to assess whether you’re ready for product deployment.

Benefits Of User-Centric Design

Avoiding Common Mistakes

According to Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D (Americas Human Factors International), three of the top 12 reasons that IT projects fail are directly associated with what we would call user experience or user-centered design work. Those three are:

  • badly defined requirements;
  • poor communication among customers, developers, and users;
  • conflicting stakeholder politics.

Other reasons include unrealistic project goals, incorrect evaluation of required resources, poor representation of project status, unmanaged risks, the use of immature technologies, inability to cope with project complexity, negligent methods of development, unsuccessful project management, and money pressures.

Through stakeholder interviews, user research, and user testing, user-centered design can fix at least three of those 12 reasons for software failure. You can calculate the financial savings or additional revenue or benefit that you get by improving your UX in the product.

What It Brings to the Team and the Development Process

UCD influences the final success of the product release. Microsoft is one of the strong examples of adapting dynamic user-centered design. For a long time, it was a technology-driven organization. Now, the company has shifted its strategy to be user-centered — through an authentic UCD process properties which are focused on users.



Their applications had become more and more complex, and this was negative for the UX. Therefore, Microsoft decided that user-centered design should be used to bring the user back into the heart of their software development process. Focusing on the team and building a creative development process has had a positive impact on this software giant’s productivity, creativity, and business success.

Statistics that Show the Success of the Approach

Let’s talk about the return on investment (ROI) of doing user experience research. Here’s some interesting data from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a professional organization that puts out reports and does research for programmers, developers, and engineers.

They estimate that the amount of money spent worldwide in IT to be $1 trillion a year – and that up to 15% of all projects are abandoned because they are hopelessly inadequate. The percentage of revenue directed to the IT group is 5% of a company’s total revenue, and up to 10% if it’s a financial or telecommunications enterprise.

Programmers spend 50% of their time on rework that is actually avoidable. The cost of fixing an error after development is 100 times that of fixing an error before project development is finished.

By following the lessons in this UCD guide, you can identify problems before they emerge, and look for the solution at an early stage to save time and money for unburdened product development.

User-Centered Design Examples


Trello is a good example of UX design – it doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary features. Everything on the home screen is easy to understand and works exactly the way it should, without allowing any confusion over how to move tasks from one board to another. The interface design is intuitive and those using the app for the first time have no trouble navigating the different pages.


Anyone who has used Duolingo understands the simplicity of the app. By completing one task or game, you can move on to the more advanced categories. Incorporating the addictiveness of a mobile gaming app and using it to teach the world new languages is simply a brilliant idea, but the fantastic user experience is what keeps people coming back again and again.


With their recently added ability to book a room instantly, having a clean-cut mobile presence has become a necessity for Airbnb. Similar to their innovative website, their mobile app is uncomplicated, smooth, and straightforward. The user simply puts in where they want to stay, what dates, and how many guests they will have – and they immediately get a selection of dozens of homes that meet their needs, right at their fingertips.

User Centric Design Creates The Customer Development Basis

Finally, when your work impacts people every day — think carefully about how they feel, put yourself in their shoes, and listen to them. Start using UCD now to create your impact in the future. Industrial designers realized that user experience mattered decades before we were born. That’s why, today, it still makes people envious if you own an Olivetti typewriter or a Braun stereo.

Being a user-centered designer is about believing that as long as you stay grounded in what you’ve learned from people, your team can arrive at unique solutions that the world needs. The value system of user-centered design contains empathy, optimism, iteration, creative confidence, belief in making, embracing ambiguity, and learning from failure. Be brave to learn from the users. Don’t be the fish who didn’t know it was in the water.

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Sergey Gladkiy
Sergey likes designing new products the same as ordering new rocks. He's a big fan of animation in interfaces and has much to share in this community.
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One comment

  1. Nice informative post. Thanks for share.

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