Human-Centered Design Principles & Practices




Human-centered design (HCD) focuses on the needs, contexts, actions, motivations, and emotions of a specific audience. Only once these attributes are found can you create meaningful, digital user experience and user interfaces.

Human-centered design is vital in today’s digital landscape because it removes personal preference and prejudice from the design process. It forces designers to interact with people, to learn about them, empathize with them, and test their UX/UI hypothesis in real-time.

All of this research fosters a deep connection between the design team and the people they are designing for, ultimately culminating in a design solution rooted in empathy, strategy, reason, and purpose.

Start With Empathy

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

The concept of empathy is widely understood, but not always in tandem with the practice of design. When design is conducted with an empathetic approach, the design tends to be significantly more valuable than if done solely by personal preference.

To design from a place of true empathy, you need research and interaction with your users. If done well, this interaction creates relationships that result in accountability. Now, you are able to create a design and user experience that serves the users, not your ego.

Beginning with empathy will allow you to better understand and utilize human-centered design principles.

The 4 Human-Centered Design Principles

#1 Focus on the people

Human-centered design, like its namesake states, puts humans at the center of your design process.

What does that mean though?

It’s fairly simple. In order to follow the human-centered design, you must focus on the people you are designing for–not yourself, not your ego, not your portfolio. Let us repeat the last one: not your portfolio.

The people you are designing for should be considered at each step of the design process.

The research phase of human-centered design is essential because it allows you to understand and empathize with the people you are designing for. Do not start designing until you’ve successfully completed this part of the process.

#2 Find the right problem

Once you understand the people you are designing for, great! Now you need to understand the fundamental problem you are solving.

You might think that the problem you are solving is something like “the UI is ugly and outdated.”

While this may be true, it is your opinion. The only way to understand and define this problem further is through research.

However, problems and symptoms can become misconstrued as well. For instance “users are not spending time on my site” or “my conversion rates are low” are problems, but they are also symptoms.

The problems behind low engagement and conversions might be something like “my users can’t find what they are looking for” or “my users do not find our content engaging”.

Notice how the larger problem tends to be simple, but requires more thought.

To frame this problem in the most empathetic way, we should identify what the user wants to accomplish and how we can help them do this.

A great way to do this is to utilize a JTBD Job to be done framework. It looks something like this…

When _________ , I want to _________ , so I can ____________ .

Let’s break this down.

When_______ : is prompting the situation

I want to_________: is prompting the desire/motivation

So I can____________: is prompting the expected outcome.

The example problem we have been discussing might look like this when reframed.

“When I go to website X, I want to buy/find/learn X, so I can X.”

With this framework, we understand what our users are trying to do in a defined way. Your task as a designer is to provide the best way to help them do this. Motivation is rooted in helping people, not designing something that “looks cool.”

#3 Think of everything as a system

Remember that UX applies to the overall experience, not singular steps in an experience.

Think about a simple user journey.

  1. You go to the grocery store
  2. The parking lot is clean
  3. Spots are clearly marked
  4. The aisles are mopped
  5. Items are organized intuitively
  6. You find exactly what you need

However, when you arrive at the register there is only one cashier and the line is to the back of the store. Although you had a great experience overall, you will remember the wait to check out. It will likely overshadow the majority of your perceived and remembered user experience.

This same concept applies to tech and other industries. Impactful user experiences must be optimized from start to finish.

#4 Always test your design decisions

Now, your initial design is looking great. It is rooted in empathy and reason. You have tested it with colleagues. You have spent endless hours looking over every pixel.

Regardless of the time spent up to this point, until you test this product with a representative sample of your users, your design is just a hypothesis. Your hypothesis cannot be verified until you take the time to collect feedback from your users.

Your hypothesis might be off, and that is ok (although sometimes it’s a hard pill to swallow). Design is a process, it is never perfect. Testing and iterating will make your product’s design better in the long run.

There is no substitute for in-person testing and remember, you are not your users.

Human-Centered Design Principles Transform Your Digital Product

A human-centered design process will culminate in a digital product that resonates with the users it was designed for. Its benefits include:

  • Your research will help you make design decisions that are empathetic and without bias or ego
  • The attention to the user journey will ensure a consistent and delightful user experience
  • Your user interface will be relevant and engaging
  • Your content will be strategic–in format, messaging, and visualizations
  • Your testing will verify a thoughtful design hypothesis that is based on reason

If you do the work and put in the time and effort, the HCD process will provide the framework for a successful digital product.

A strategic UX/UI can have a massive impact on engagement metrics, user data, upselling opportunities, brand equity, and recurring revenue.

If your digital product needs to better reflect your audience’s needs, contact the UX/UI design team at Devetry. We can consult and conduction a thorough human-centered design project and handoff a UX/UI strategy for success.

Download the UX Report Template

Put these human-centered design principles in action by downloading our free UX research report. You’ll see how we organize user interviews, surveys, focus groups and more.

Download the UX report template here.