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User-centred design (UCD), as the term suggests, places the user at the heart of the design process and can be characterised as a framework of processes for multi-stage problem solving. The needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process.

Crucially, user-centred design seeks to optimise the product (service or process) for how users can, want, or need to use the product – rather than forcing users to change their behaviour to accommodate the design.

Six key principles ensure that a design is user-centred

  1. The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments
  2. Users are involved throughout design and development
  3. The design is driven and refined by user-centred evaluation
  4. The process is iterative
  5. The design addresses the whole user experience
  6. The design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives

Typically user-centred design employs user-orientated tools and techniques that instil high levels of buy-in and user participation, for example co-design and participatory design approaches. A number of tools may be employed in the analysis phase of user-centred design, for example:

  • Personas – fictional characters with all the characteristics of a user within key stakeholder groups and intended to create a common shared understanding of the user group and help prioritise design considerations.
  • Scenarios – fictional stories about the ‘a day in the life of’ or a sequence of events with the primary stakeholder group as the main character, typically using personas created earlier in order to create a social context in which the personas exist.

User-centred design not only requires designers to analyse and foresee how users are likely to use a product, but also to test the validity of their assumptions. This approach offers a number of tangible benefits to the organisation over and above the creation of more efficient, effective and safer designs. These include:

  • A better understanding of the problem or issue
  • More efficient prototyping, testing and validation of concepts
  • Developing a clearer representation of the project vision
  • Providing an improved basis for estimating costs and resource requirements
  • Mitigating project risk

Less tangible but no less important benefits include, the better management of user expectations and hence increased levels of user satisfaction. As well as the development of an increased sense of ownership and the generation of more creative design solutions through collaborative processes.

Sources

Norman, D. (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books. New York, NY. (Revised in 2013 as The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition)
ISO 9241-210 – Human-centred design for interactive systems (2010). NB: Relates to human-centred design principles for the development of computer-based interactive systems, but is nevertheless applicable to other design disciplines.

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