What is Human-Centered Design and Why It Matters

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Human-centered design is a new standard in product development. It helps companies create solutions that people love and are ready to pay for. But while most of us have a basic understanding of what human-centered design is, not many people know how to apply a theory to real projects. The concept is based on general principles and doesn’t have strict rules. But it’s important to use its best practices during a development process to get expected outcomes.

We created this brief overview of the human-centered design methodology to help you implement it in your software projects and build digital products that will win users’ hearts.

What is human-centered design (HCD)?

In short, the human-centered design approach is a way of designing products that focuses explicitly on the end-users’ needs. The term was coined by the IDEO studio, a non-profit organization that designed Apple’s first computer mouse and Oral-B soft-handle toothbrush for kids. By putting users first, product creators who apply the HCD framework produce innovative solutions that are not only useful and beautiful but also usable.

When researching the topic, you may also find the term “human-centered design thinking”. Some authors use it to describe the mindset of designers who create solutions in accordance with the HCD principles. But, actually, when diving deeper into the human-centered design vs design thinking comparison, it becomes obvious that these phrases are not interchangeable and belong to different concepts.

human centered design

Design thinking has a broader idea behind and focuses on building products that can solve people’s problems. The goal of human-centered design and engineering is more specific. It looks at the details and tries to answer a question of how the problems are solved and if the user experience meets people’s needs and wants. Ideally, product creators should combine both methodologies to build innovative user-oriented solutions.

Human-centered design: principles

The human-centered design aims to change the way businesses look at products and services, not to provide strict instructions on how to build different solutions. That’s why it’s crucial not only to apply best practices but also to understand their theoretical background. Here are the main principles of the human-centered design methodology:

Be people-oriented

This principle may seem obvious from the human-centered design definition, but it still needs more detailed explanations. Keeping a user at the heart of the development process means that designers should consider a product as a tool that has to solve the problems of real people. Exploration of the human perspective has to take place at every stage of the product development process. Besides user needs, product creators should also take into account existing constraints, preferences, desires, and the overall context.

human centered design

Address the core problem

There are two types of problems in human-centered design: fundamental and symptomatic. The task is to find a fundamental problem and solve it with a usable solution instead of “curing” the symptoms. To identify the root of people’s pains, you need to do extensive research. At first, it may seem that a core problem is evident and you don’t have to put resources into finding it. But in such a case, you may end up developing a product that solves the wrong or abstract problem that no one has.

Take a systematic approach

In the real world, everything is interconnected. That’s why fixing a local issue doesn’t usually result in solving the original problem, at least not in the long-term perspective. When you apply the human-centered design, you have to think about the entire user journey. For example, if you want to create an ecommerce store based on the principles of human-centered design, you need to put yourself in the situation of a customer at every phase of the buying process. It means that you cannot optimize the product search and ignore inconvenient checkout. The solution as a whole and each of its pieces should be oriented upon the people.

Focus upon the end result

If you look at some human-centered design examples, you’ll see one thing they have in common: a focus on the end result, not on a tool to achieve it. The UX of a tool should be understandable and offer a smooth flow from one touchpoint to another. However, the result that a user ultimately gets with the help of the tool has to be in the spotlight. For instance, a photo camera should satisfy a user’s need to take nice photographs. The details of the gadget are also important but they have no value if a person cannot achieve a desired result using them.

Human-centered design: process

Now, as we’ve defined what is human-centered design and engineering, it’s time to discuss how it works in practice. In general, the HCD process consists of six stages.

human centered design

1. Observation

The main purpose of this stage is to get a better understanding of who the future users of a solution are. Product creators have to put themselves into customers’ shoes and try to look at things from their point of view. Depending on the nature of a product, research can include interviews of a target audience, focus groups, field experiments, etc. Eventually, you should know what behavior patterns, pain points, assumptions, and biases people have and how they can impact your product vision.

2. Ideation

At the ideation stage of human-centered design, a team generates as many ideas as possible. Basically, it’s all about brainstorming. Product creators use findings from the previous phase to visualize and discuss all possible options of a potential solution. There should be no judgment, no matter how weird ideas may seem to other team members. All forms of creativity are encouraged. At the end, a team should choose one idea that they want to bring to life.

3. Prototyping

Building a prototype allows a team to make the idea tangible. This stage shouldn’t take too much time and money since its only task is to show the future solution to users, not to create a profitable product. A simple prototype has to be developed quickly and demonstrate how the solution will look like. There are numerous tools you can use for this task, from InVision to simple paper sketches.

4. Testing

It’s when your product, or better to say its prototype, gets to potential users for the first time. The goal is to test your main assumptions and gather feedback from real people. The data collected at this stage should help a team to determine the best path to move forward. Since testing actively involves users, it’s considered the most crucial element of the human-centered design process. Ultimately, this stage should give you a solid understanding of whether you’re on target or off the track.

5. Iteration

The team has to keep iterating until they make sure that their solution perfectly suits user needs. There is no single answer to the question of how many iteration product creators should make before they come up with the final design of a solution. But, as practice shows, the more rounds you go through, the better chances you have to build a usable and popular product.

6. Implementation

Finally, a team should develop an actual product and take it to the market. Yet, it’s important to understand that a software solution can never be one hundred percent finished. Even after the launch, you should keep gathering user feedback, add new features, and release updates. People’s needs are constantly evolving, so a product must also change to meet them.

Why human-centered design matters

Human-centered design isn’t some fancy trend that has no impact on anyone’s life. The framework is beneficial for all parties involved in the development process and can really improve the way people deal with different tasks. Let’s take a closer look at why human-centered design is so important for successful product creation:

  • Benefits for users. The concept of human-centered design starts with people and their needs. As a result, users get tailor-made products that effectively resolve their challenges.
  • Benefits for stakeholders. Solutions developed according to the HCD methodology have the bigger potential to win significant market share. In addition, they increase customer loyalty to a brand since people love to feel that they are cared for.
  • Benefits for a development team. Human-centered design simplifies the work for programmers since they can rely on validated knowledge based on market research and user feedback. So no more guessing games.

Besides, if a team follows a system development life cycle, it’s mentally more oriented on results. It means that there will be less wasted effort, so a client can expect better ROI.


Human-centered design helps companies develop empathy with users and build solutions that really make the difference. If you apply the HCD approach to your development process, you can be sure that your investments won’t be wasted on a product that no one actually needs. Research, testing, and constant iterations will guarantee that a development team moves in the right direction and you’ll get a working and profitable product in the end.

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Case studies

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We always keep track of the latest trends in the tech and business world. Check out our blog for the expert opinion on the hottest topics!

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We always keep track of the latest trends in the tech and business world. Check out our blog for the expert opinion on the hottest topics!

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