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What Is User-Centered Design And How Can You Implement It?

Any experienced designer knows that you cannot design highly functional products based on intuition alone. Yes, a good eye and design skills are of utmost importance to the process, but it does not guarantee commercial success. 

A good product design is not just about how good something looks and functions. A good product design is defined by how well it works for your users. And if you want to absolutely smash it with your users, you need to involve them in the design process.

That’s where user-centered design comes in. 

A user-centered design process means that your product and its functions are endorsed by your users at every step. In turn, you have a product that effectively fulfills very specific user needs. 

In fact, if we do say so ourselves, this is probably the best way to guarantee success in today’s competitive market.

This article will take you through everything user-centered design:

  • What it is,
  • Why it’s important,
  • User-centered design principles, 
  • User-centered design process.

Let’s get right into it.

What is user-centered design or UCD?

UCD is a design philosophy that puts the users at the center of the design process – their needs, objectives, issues, and feedback are all taken into account from the start.

With the UCD approach, designers are encouraged to create a product that specifically targets their use cases and form unique connections with the respective user communities.

Most importantly, UCD is an iterative process, with design teams involving users via various research and design methodologies to create accessible and usable products.

Difference between UCD and human-centered design

Many people confuse the two terms when in reality, they’re two very different approaches to design. To help you understand that, consider this statement:

Every user is a human, but not every human is a user.

UCD requires a much deeper analysis and understanding of your specific target audience. It’s not about general characteristics. UCD is about getting to know their habits, routines, and preferences to combat problems with the right solution.

There’s so much that you need to grasp in order to create a user-centered design. All other factors such as age, education, social status, community, demands, product usage, and so on come into play here.

What some find useful and important, others may not. Which one does your target audience fall under? 

That’s what UCD is about – creating meaningful products for your target audience’s specific demands.

The benefits of user-centered design

User-centered design is advantageous for business in many ways. Let’s look at 7 key benefits that user-centered design has to offer.

benefits of ucd

Reduced project risks

Every project has its risks. User-centered design lowers those risks because of how much user research goes into the project before the actual design process starts.

Since you’re likely going to satisfy your customer’s needs, the risk of your project not working out in the market is greatly reduced.

The goal of user-centered design is to involve the user as much as possible during the design process. Users who aren’t involved miss out on the opportunity to offer insightful comments on the project’s course.

Designers who employ the user-centered design methodology take less risk because clients are informed of the design process as it develops and has a greater opportunity to reroute the project if they believe it is off course.

Improved credibility

Your end users will respect you more if you employ a user-centered design. You demonstrate to them your concern and awareness of their requirements.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the user experience is necessary for user-centered design. Instead of attempting to address a business issue, user-centered design seeks to address a concern that users may have.

Building their trust begins with demonstrating that you prioritize their needs.

Increased efficiency

End users are more productive thanks to user-centered design since tasks are completed more quickly and easily when the design is focused on user experience. 

It’s intuitive, so they don’t have to waste time or effort figuring out how to accomplish things.

Increased engagement and customer loyalty

User engagement is what you want to see because it shows that customers are using your good or service.

Because your customers are at the center of the design process, user-centered design increases engagement. They can see that someone wants to improve their user experience, and someone is taking their opinions seriously.

The time and work that went into creating an interface that makes perfect sense to the users of your product will always be appreciated by them.

Products that are intuitive and simple to use will always prevail over those that are intended to do the same thing yet are difficult to understand or utilize.

Boosted competitiveness

User-centered design also increases competition among businesses. Successful user-centered design initiatives demonstrate that you prioritize your users.

End consumers want to know that they are working with a business that prioritizes them and will make the effort to genuinely understand their user experience in order to provide them with a better product or service in the long run.

By providing that, you’ll increase your appeal to customers and draw in new clients.

Reduced resource burden

The design process uses a lot of resources. Designers invest a lot of time and energy into creating the finest product they can for the client.

A designer might work nonstop on a project, yet it’s not unheard of for them to be informed that they fell short of the mark. User-centered design helps in preventing the issue.

Contrary to appearances, user-centered design doesn’t demand greater resources. Designers will have a better understanding of what the customer really wants earlier because they will have regularly asked for feedback.

They won’t waste their time on finishing a project that won’t be used.

Increased conversion rates, sales and RoI

The increase in conversion rates and sales is another advantage of user-centered design, for organizations and users alike.

Imagine you redesign your company’s main app after taking user suggestions into account. Because it’s now simpler to use, you’re more likely to observe consumers progressing in their sales journey.

In fact, because you’re making it simpler to buy from you, you’re more likely to see more sales.

In turn, user-centered design initiatives offer a higher RoI. As mentioned earlier above, designers spend less time on finished goods that don’t fulfill customer criteria, and the business gains reputation and boosts sales. 

End users are happier and pay less for assistance, boosting conversion rates, sales and RoI.

The principles of UCD

In all honesty, there are many ways to approach UCD, but the strategy you adopt is entirely based on your industry and target audience.

With that said, there are 4 accepted principles that user-centered design follows.

principles of ucd

A clear understanding of user and task requirements

The idea is to have the journey and destination of the project clearly defined and mapped out so there is no friction or confusion in the design process.

Because of how much user research is required with the UCD approach, designers and the rest of the team should be well aware of the end goal and what they’re trying to help their users with.

Empathetic user-centered design is essential. UCD requires you to put yourself in the user’s position. 

Instead of just introducing a product that’s simple for you to get to market, concentrate on addressing their problems.

Early involvement of the user to evaluate the design of the product

Without their early involvement, you won’t have a comprehensive knowledge of your users’ needs. You might find yourself already a long way down the wrong road if you try to incorporate people in product development afterward.

Including user feedback to define requirements and design

When assessing your product and its efficacy, various forms of data are crucial. At various stages throughout the way, collect qualitative and quantitative data.

Provide numerous opportunities for your internal staff and your external users to provide feedback.

Iterative design process

Good design doesn’t just happen. Don’t expect to advance every time; anticipate going through multiple revisions.

It’s possible that as you continue to learn more about your users, you will need to revise a key component of your design.

Don’t be reluctant to make errors. Be bold in pursuing fresh creative outlets.

Include the essential elements of UCD

The essential elements of UCD that we’re talking about here are:

  • Visibility – Right away, users should be able to understand the purpose of the product, what it’s about, and how to utilize it.
  • Legibility – Everything needs to be easy to read; no point if no one can understand you.
  • Accessibility – Users should be offered a variety of ways to find information easily and quickly – CTAs, search options, etc.
  • Language – Preferably use shorter sentences and phrases as they are easier to digest.

The user-centered design process

There is no definitive process that UCD follows, but given its philosophy, we can identify four key stages that the user-centered design approach goes through.

user-centered design process

Stage 1 - Understanding the user and use-context

The first step in user-centered design is to identify the intended end users of the product and establish the usage context. 

The main goal is to determine the problems these users are facing, why they would be drawn to your product and any other contextual factors that might impact or inspire their use of it.

Designers decide what initially captivates the user’s interest in the product and how they would ideally engage with it.

Through techniques including focus groups, usability testing, card sorting, participatory design, surveys, and interviews, the needs of these users are discovered and defined. 

To better understand the needs of your target audience, the following areas are typically examined:

  • Persona: To help you visualize the process better, a persona is established at the start of the process as an illustration of the target audience you are attempting to attract. It is a depiction of a certain group of individuals who share similar patterns in their behavior, requirements, aspirations, talents, attitudes, etc.The use of personas helps in making the proper judgments about a product’s functionality, navigation, interactions, visual design, and much more. It enables you to set design priorities and choose which features are merely desirable to have.
  • Situation: Your target is living your persona’s “daily life.” Persona’s difficulties are discussed. Small, emotional, and physical elements are important in this situation.
  • Use case: The persona must follow a set of actions in order to accomplish the objective.

Stage 2 - Specification of user and business requirements

At this point, it’s crucial to group your data in order to create a list of specifications and user objectives that must be fulfilled in order to ensure that the users’ demands are addressed.

The benefits of the design for the user and the business are established here, along with the issues the design is resolving.

Here, designers and stakeholders will determine the design metrics to employ for gauging business success (such as expected income and return on investment) as well as what user success looks like.

A solid grasp of UX design strategy is beneficial because it creates a link between user wants and goals and company objectives.

Stage 3 - Creation of design solutions

You can only begin developing viable solutions after you have finished these first two processes. 

Iterative in nature, this design phase can progress from a vague concept to a finished design.

This is the core of design and includes activities such as storyboarding, journey mapping, wireframing, creating mockups and user flows, testing out various UI components, and figuring out an effective information architecture.

Stage 4 - Evaluation and iteration

As you begin this iterative process of product design and development, keep your goals in mind.

It’s time to assess the efficiency of the design team’s innovations in light of the user and business requirements after they have come up with a few potential solutions.

The most important tool in this stage to evaluate how effectively the designs are working is usability testing, ideally with actual users.

A few questions you might want to ask yourself are:

  • What went well? 
  • What didn’t go well? 
  • How did our audience react? 
  • How can we get better?

Repeat this procedure until the ideal design is obtained.

How Cubyts can help you implement UCD in your organization

The most important thing to remember about UCD is that above everything else, it is a design philosophy and mindset, much like Lean UX, Agile UX (which can both technically be considered as examples of UCD), and design thinking.

The only way to make this philosophy work within your teams is if it is incorporated and channeled into every aspect of your organization, not just the design team. 

Design is a collaborative process, and that involves working together with other stakeholders as multi-disciplinary teams. If your entire organization doesn’t adopt it, it won’t work out well for you.

That’s where we come in. If you’re planning to implement UCD into your organization, whether you’re a fresher or a design expert, we have something that can help you kickstart this journey.

For your UCD teams, Cubyts has developed a module that provides you with a template and optimum design practices that are readily available to everyone using our platform.

Thanks to our module, which was developed particularly to make the process simpler for you to use and comprehend, you can now design, create, and apply your UCD workflows with the utmost ease.

We hope this article has enlightened you as to the importance of user-centered design. Feel free to get in touch with us, or request a demo to get a hands-on idea of what we offer.