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March 6, 2020 - 3 min read

What is Human-centered Design? from IDEO.org on Vimeo.


According to ISO 9241-210:2019(E): Human-centred design is an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, and usability knowledge and techniques. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human well-being, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance. 


Human-Centred Design (HCD) is a creative approach to problem-solving that starts with understanding the people you’re trying to reach and then designing from their perspective. The approach centres around building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for. 


HCD as a problem-solving approach is differentiated by its focus on understanding the perspective of the person who experiences the problem, their needs and the solution that would truly meet those needs. It puts those people at the heart of the design process as much as possible. 


Mike Cooley, engineer and author of Architect or Bee? asserts in his 2008 paper “On Human-Machine Symbiosis”:


“Human centredness asserts firstly, that we must always put people before machines, however complex or elegant that machine might be, and, secondly, it marvels and delights at the ability and ingenuity of human beings. The Human Centred Systems movement looks sensitively at these forms of science and technology which meet our cultural, historical and societal requirements, and seeks to develop more appropriate forms of technology to meet our long-term aspirations. In the Human Centred System, there exists a symbiotic relation between the human and the machine in which the human being would handle the qualitative subjective judgements and the machine the quantitative elements. It involves a radical redesign of the interface technologies and at a philosophical level the objective is to provide tools (in the Heidegger sense) which would support human skill and ingenuity rather than machines which would objectivise that knowledge.”


The Principles and Approach of Human-Centred Design

There are 3 main principles of human-centred design that help designers to satisfy user needs in a meaningful way. 



Generate the best ideas by working together



Deeply understand the users’ needs, wants and expectations



Great products are the result of conversations and checking hypotheses


The HCD mindset turns business problems into human problems, for example: 


“How can we increase our website conversion rate?” becomes “How can we help site visitors figure out if our product fits their needs and then encourage them to buy it?”


The approach for HCD can be broken down into 3 basic steps:


  • Discover – Discover ways you can approach a challenge and talk about it
  • Ideate – Use creativity to think up solutions to the problem 
  • Prototype – Take your ideas and feedback and turn them into a design


Human-Centred Design within an Agile Framework

The Agile approach teams cross-functional collaboration with iterative development which makes it the perfect fit for human-centred design. The need for flawless software is a given and it’s through design and UX that products will stand out from the competition. By using a combination of Agile and HCD, teams can gather important end-user feedback as they bring software to the market. 


The Benefits of Human-Centred Design

Human-centred design tends to involve design thinking which leads to creative solutions that simply wouldn’t come about through traditional design methods. 


When a user finds a piece of software to be confusing or difficult to use, they can become stressed or frustrated. Companies that use an HCD approach tend to have more accessible software products resulting in higher user productivity and fewer technical support requests. User-friendly and intuitive software that meets needs upon release will ultimately have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. 


In summary, an HCD approach helps to: 

  • make software easier to use and understand
  • increase the productivity of users 
  • increase the operational efficiency of organisation
  • improve user experience
  • reduce stress and frustration
  • reduce training and support costs
  • provide competitive advantage
  • improve brand image

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