User-Centered Design: Process and Benefits
Good design can change lives. Take the LifeStraw, a 10-inch plastic straw that cleans up contaminated water to prevent illnesses like diphtheria, cholera, typhoid, and diarrhea when you drink. This simple design, which cost only three dollars to produce when it was released, won the International Index Project Award in the project’s inaugural year (2005). The designers of LifeStraw did not question the drinking water standard or fight the privatization of water. Instead, they came up with a simple, inexpensive solution for a specific time and place. Anyone can use the LifeStraw in any location where there is running or collected water. It’s a perfect example of a well-executed user-centric design.
What is user-centered design?
User-Centered Design (UCD) is an iterative approach to developing new solutions to problems – both large and small, technological and analog. The process begins with human beings and ends with solutions tailored to their individual needs.
First you need to understand the people you are trying to reach, and then you start to conceive from their perspective. UCD is all about empathizing with the people you are designing for. Then you need to generate bunch of ideas and prototypes to test and share your designs with the people you’re designing for. You will inevitably fail and try again (this is where iteration comes in) but with users at the center of your design process, you will eventually bring your innovative solution to the world. In other words, UCD is both How? ‘Or’ What you think and What You’re doing.
How to design in a user-centric way
Cognitive science researcher Dr. Donald Norman was the first to explain the importance of user-centered design. For Norman, design decisions should be based on two important elements: discoverability and understanding.
First, users should be able to discover (i.e. perceive) why an object exists and what it can do for them. Next, users must be able to understand the object and how it works. To achieve both of these goals, Norman presents a concrete checklist of design steps that evolved into what we now call user-centered design.
The Seven Stages of Don Norman’s Action
- Train the goal.
- Form the intention.
- Specify an action.
- Perform the action.
- Perceive the state of the world.
- Interpret the state of the world.
- Evaluate the result.
User-centered design provides a common language for scientists, stakeholders and end users. For example, Jay Trimble, Mission System Manager for NASA’s Lunar Rover Mission, has incorporated user-centric design techniques and talks about the value of sharing a common language across all areas of the Rover Project. .
6 user-centered design phases
- Specify the context of use and user needs.
- Specify the business needs.
- Create design solutions, from raw concept to final design.
- Evaluate designs with usability testing.
- Implementation – develop and deliver the product.
- Deployment – evaluate the end product as consumer needs evolve
User-Centered Design Research Methods
User research is all about talking with people about their needs, challenges, and goals. However, there will be times when you need more context, history, or data than a man-in-the-street interview can offer.
To design in a user-centric way, identify who will use your product, what they will use it for, and under what conditions they will use it. Observe people’s lives, listen to their needs so that you can develop new innovative products rooted in those needs. This happens through various types of user-centered research, such as focus groups, questionnaires, or interviews.
Responsive Principles of User-Centered Design
- Clear understanding of users, tasks and environments
- Evaluation-driven design
- Considering the general experience of the consumer
- Involve the customer throughout the design process
User-centric design in action
Once designers have determined the optimal solutions for the target community, it’s time to bring in technical expertise and start considering business goals (such as financial viability). Finding the balance between user needs and business boundaries is a crucial part of designing successful (for the user) and sustainable (for the business) solutions.
Microsoft is one of the best examples of user-centric design. For a long time, Microsoft was a technology company for technologists. The company’s user interfaces (UIs) have become so technical that everyday users have been alienated and moved to more elegantly designed companies (like Apple). So Microsoft decided that user-centered design should be an integral part of its code. This software giant has started to work more closely with end users. Today, Microsoft has adopted an authentic design development process that focuses on the user experience. Users may not even be aware of these changes. Try to remember how clunky your Microsoft software was in the 1990s and early 2000s and compare that to what you use today. UCD can make a huge difference in UX!
Identify UX issues before they appear
In user-centered design, you need to be comfortable with the idea of failure and celebrate the learning it brings. You are trying something, but maybe you are pushing it too far; your half-baked idea didn’t quite work out. When you use UCD methods, what you learn from these failures is just as valuable as your eventual success. That’s what iteration is for!
However, it is in the design and implementation of the product that failure costs money. This is where the real value of user-centered design comes in: the multiple iterations that UCD requires help you avoid costly implementation through prototyping and testing. UCD helps identify problems before they appear.
What does the UCD look like?
Here are some great examples of companies that have embraced UCD in their UX research and user interface design.
Carters.com, a children’s clothing company, is a prime example of a website benefiting from UCD. The site’s navigation tools help the user to quickly reach the desired section by specifying the age and gender of a child next to the dress style (e.g. baby girl → Bodysuit → Newborn) while opting by default for seasonal clothing. This navigation helps parents quickly find clothes in stock that they know will be suitable for their children.
Instacart.com is a perfect showcase for tailoring a website for blind or visually impaired people as there is a high contrast version of the website. This site is a great example of how the designers worked with users to showcase these minor improvements that are having a big impact on UX.
In addition to convenient navigation, Yelp online reservations visually display the number of free tables at the restaurant of your choice. If you want to order take out, you can use the conveniently located “Start Order” button, which allows you to complete an order online with just a few clicks and reduces the number of steps to getting your food.
Trello is a great example of UX design. From the start screen, everything is intuitive and the interface is easy to navigate for novice users.
Anyone who has used Duolingo understands the simplicity of the app. When you have completed a task or game, you can move on to the more advanced categories. Duolingo incorporates the fun of a mobile gaming application while teaching new languages to users.
With Airbnb’s fairly recent addition of “book a room instantly” functionality, it has become all the more important for the company to have a clear mobile presence. Much like their innovative website, Airbnb’s mobile app is both visually engaging and easy to navigate.
This article originally appeared on UX Planet.