What is User Centered Design?


According to UXPA, User-centered design (UCD) is an approach to design that grounds the process in information about the people who will use the product. UCD processes focus on users through the planning, design and development of a product. There is an international standard that is the basis for many UCD methodologies. This standard (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process) defines a general process for including human-centered activities throughout a development life-cycle, but does not specify exact methods. UCD makes it so that all design and development proceed with the user being the main focus.

The UCD process is an iterative process, where design and evaluation steps are built in from the first stage of projects, through implementation

User-Centered Design (UCD) is a user interface design process that focuses on usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks, and workflow in the design of an interface. UCD follows a series of well-defined methods and techniques for analysis, design, and evaluation of mainstream hardware, software, and web interfaces. The UCD process is an iterative process, where design and evaluation steps are built in from the first stage of projects, through implementation.” – Shawn Lawton Henry and Mary Martinson, Accessibility in User-Centered Design

The ultimate goal of UCD is to create a product that has the highest level of usability possible. Jeffrey Rubin describes usability objectives as:

  • Usefulness – product enables user to achieve their goals – the tasks that it was designed to carry out and/or wants needs of user.
  • Effectiveness (ease of use) – quantitatively measured by speed of performance or error rate and is tied to a percentage of users.
  • Learnability – user’s ability to operate the system to some defined level of competence after some predetermined period of training. Also, refers to ability for infrequent users to relearn the system.
  • Attitude (likeability) – user’s perceptions, feelings and opinions of the product, usually captured through both written and oral communication.

Currently being in a company that is unfamiliar with what the UX team does and what the UCD process is, I was challenged to create a document that helped breakdown the UX process I was looking to implement with my team and the importance of each step and the methodologies to accomplish each step.


Designers love to get there Adobe creative suites started and ready to go the minute they are put on a project, but as a UX professional, one must remember to first know the task and goals at hand and what the team is getting into in order to be able to prepare and understand the situation before being stuck in a situation you cannot get out of. Just like my sports playing days, any sports coach will tell you, it is absolutely necessary to analyze and study the opponent in order to prepare for the game. Ill prepared individuals find that the confidence and drive they think they can rely on, runs very short and does not last the full duration of the game. In the same way, designers find themselves stuck in a traditional way of jumping into a design without fully studying the ins and outs of the project at hand.

...it is absolutely necessary to analyze and study the opponent in order to prepare for the game.

The analysis and research phase is  the time when you and your team can really dive into the project to get the background and data you’ll need to make the best design decisions later on in the project. This is when you will do your best to learn as much about your client’s business, objectives, users and competitors as possible.


Now we get the team together, and with all our findings and research, begin to brainstorm different design concepts and ideas, walk through the design, establish user flows and navigation models, sketch out ideas, create low-fi wireframes work together, and a whole lot more. We can start getting creative with different concepts, and make sure to use all the findings and data from the Analysis phase to help us in making the right design decisions.


Once we have a good direction in regards to design concepts, now we can make our static wireframes and comps into functional prototypes. By creating prototypes, we can now test our design assumptions with our users. Looking at a static image is a good visual representation of the UI, but to have the ability to interact with a working prototype is what helps us understand the user interaction and be able to test our assumptions and designs. Despite Design being in the phase above, it never really ends as we continue to design improvements and create multiple iterations as we continue to receive feedback from user testing and data that help us determine what changes need to be made, and what seems to be working with our users. This way, we are able to design the best UI based on qualitative and quantitative data. Both phases will help define its scope, its features and functionality and how the product will behave.


Do we believe that this product is ready to implement and launch? With all the iterations of design and prototyping, with all the user testing data, it is time for us to look back on the overall project and evaluate the work. Heuristic evaluations help us determine how the UI works with best design usability practices and principles. Testing and design iterations do not stop until the product is approved and ready.


The final product is finished and ready for production launch. We can now measure the final product and see the results on production.

Now keep in mind, the UCD process is very effective and needs to be thought out carefully before implementing to a project Implementing UCD into a project process can be difficult at times, as some companies may prioritize deadlines and completion of said projects over making sure the best product is being created for the user, which can add additional time to a projects scope due to research, analysis and testing. But the question arises, what happens if we save the time and sacrifice the UCD methodologies and launch a product that fails to help the user accomplish the task? We find ourselves going back to square one and rushing to get another iteration of a product out, when in reality had we implemented the UCD methods within the process, a better understanding of the user would have helped build a better product catered to helping the user accomplish the desired tasks. So in the end, we end up actually using more time, resources and essentially spending a good amount more then originally projected on the project on trying to hire more staff, and trying to get whatever we can get out there on production as quickly as possible. Planning UX projects is a balancing act of getting the right amount of user input/data within the constraints and hard timelines of your project.

Photo credit to: https://www.mobomo.com/2017/01/user-centered-design/