Human-Centered Design: Introduction

“The need for the future is not so much computer oriented people as for people oriented computers”
Raymond Nickerson, Research Professor of Psychology, 1969

In our blog we often mention such terms like user experience, user stories, user feedback, etc. Obviously, since we make products for people, then those people are in the center of every product-related process. We design for users. We define functionality based on users' preferences. Finally, we think like our users to make the product that will fit their needs and want the best.

However, this is not the only approach that was always followed. At the beginning of computer era the developers were very limited with the tools to build new products. One could not never make a user happy offering, say, only terminal commands on the display. So for a pretty long time users were forced to get used to the functionality, design and behaviors offered by products available.

History of Human Centered Design Methodology

Then everything has changed. The amount of tools and opportunities to satisfy the growing number of potential users has increased so much that the new methodology was born. It was called Human-centered design (Or User-centered design). With this post we’d like to start a series of notes dedicated to the importance of Human-centered design in the product creation process.

Human-Centered Design Methodology

Human-centered design does not simply force to consider the needs and wants of product users in the first place. The question is how you can satisfy those needs in both functional and emotionally meaningful manner. And the truth is that there is no definite answer and no exact data that can help you find it.

That is why human-centered design is:

  • Collaborative. Great minds create great ideas when they work together.
  • Empathetic. One cannot create a product for people if s/he doesn't deeply understand the motivations of those people.
  • Experimental. It is only through conversations, experiments (checking hypotheses) and learning a great product can be born.

These principles have changed the way we look at our business goals and offered a lot more creative ways to achieve them. Basically, if you're stuck at some problem, just look at it from the human perspective:

Business problem

Human problem

How to raise the conversion rate at site?

How to drop the number of calls to our technical support?

How to increase our core audience?

What's the easier way for a user to figure out if this product fits him/her and make a decision to buy it?

How to avoid things that make a user frustrated when using this product?

How to satisfy a person in a way that would make him/her extremely grateful for this product?

Thus, human-centered design can be used anywhere: in making web products, creating spaces, designing governmental services, improving banking systems and so on. But in the IT industry it is probably demanded most, since if we’re taking flawless functionality as granted, then it is the design, i.d. the ease and comfort of use that becomes the ultimate advantage of the product in comparison to its competitors.

However, the general approach to human-centered design is always the same for any case and can be narrowed to three basic stages:

1. Discover
If you have a challenge, you first discover the ways you can approach to it and people to talk to on this matter.

2. Ideate
Now, when you have enough information to solve the problem, when you learned everything required to start generating ideas, you bring your creativity to interpret the gathered data.

3. Prototype
This is the stage when your ideas (based on real feedback!) turn into tangible designs.

How does such approach look in the usual workflow of a web development company? Here’s a short explanation:

  1. A UX designer, responsible for creating the whole user experience of the product, creates personas, that is representations of different kinds of the final users.
  2. To define how a persona will use a final product, different scenarios are written. Scenarios explain the context in which the product is used and allow to consider additional details or on the contrary avoid practices that are uncomfortable for a user.
  3. Then the use cases are developed, which are aimed to define how a particular persona will achieve its goals. Use cases should correspond to the set context (scenario) and requirements of the users (personas).
  4. Finally, all those use cases are implemented into a working prototype of the product, that is a test sample that requires minimum efforts yet looks like the final product as much as possible.
  5. That prototype is then used for user testing and checking the hypothesis: if the solutions design are correct, if the user acts just like it was previously planned, if he has any troubles using the product etc. In case all hypothesis are correct, the whole team proceeds to the implementation stage. Otherwise the UX designer goes back to previous stages and improves designed personas, scenarios, use cases in order to make a better prototype for user testing.

This is the way human-centered design applied in most web development companies including RubyGarage. In the next blog post we're going to explain in more details how such methodology helps to make the great product and how it affects every other aspect of the product creation process, so stay tuned!

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