What is Human-Centered Design?

By: Umair Shafique

A design which believes that even the seemingly intractable problems like poverty, fraud, gender equality and clean water are solvable. (IDEO.org, 9)

It strongly believes that people who are facing these problems on day to day basis can provide critical inputs for the solutions.

Human Centered Design, commonly known as HCD, is a methodology that offers problem solvers with diverse backgrounds a chance to design with communities, understand the people deeply whom they seek to serve with their innovative solutions while at the same time making sure that the solutions are rooted in people’s actual needs. It can also be referred to as a methodology used to create product, services, and experiences keeping user’s lives and needs at the core.

Figure 1: IDEATE’s HCD methodology as inspired by the Stanford D-School Design Thinking process

Various organizations across the world such as IDEO, frog design and STBY (to name a few) have found HCD more useful while solving problems rooting from the social sector where the designers are mostly dealing with the intangibles and have to build solutions from the unknown — unknown region, unknown things, unknown surroundings — which even the user is unaware of.

Figure 2: IDEATE’s Chief Innovation Officer conducting user research for an ongoing HCD project

A HCD designer unlike other designers, spends more time in the problem space while at the same time resisting the temptation to jump into the solution space. This is because they are dealing with a different kind of a problem which involves deep human behaviors and motivators to be understood first, in order to draw out any definite conclusion. They use different tools and techniques, stay as long as needed in the field to uncover the deep-down root causes for problems at hand. They converge and diverge and look for inspirations in most unexpected places but always keep the focus on the people for whom they’re designing. They quickly convert the ideas of solutions in a tangible form to test with the users and get their feedback incorporated to improve on the final product or service.

As said beautifully by Tim Brown, President & CEO of IDEO:

“A human-centered approach to innovation draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

A better HCD designer is one who keeps a harmonious balance within the real-life constraints and delivers an outcome which is desirable by customers, technically feasible and has a business viability.

HCD is a non-linear process and we use different tools and techniques depending on the nature of the problem at hand. As a Human Centered Design Firm, we strongly believe that there is no defined way to design successful solutions but rather what’s important is to test around with different combinations until you get the correct one.