User Centred Design

Orbital not circular.

Dermot Holmes
Published in
3 min readJun 10, 2018

User Centred Design (UCD) has been popularised for a while now and the term is being used more by those outside the digital department.

The increased adoption of UCD makes sense not only due to market demand for higher quality experiences and increased conversion rates but also because of how we now do business. Fifty years ago most jobs involved some form of processing, today most people are (under different labels) predominantly involved in the design process.

Unfortunately, as the term gets more widely used it also gets watered down.

While searching for a diagram to help explain the UCD concept to a colleague I noticed that most diagrams don’t do a great job of illustrating the process. If we’re honest most of these are really just the traditional design process arranged in a circle. We can do better.

User Centred Design has one central and defining idea. Users influence all stages of development, not just the prototype stage. UCD demands the design process periodically switch between the business world and the users world.

Ignore that idea and you’re back to a traditional design model with traditional design outcomes. This switching rhythm suggests a shape better suited to illustrate the UCD model.

User Centred Design is not exactly circular, it’s more like an orbital precession.

Why is this important?

As design activity in businesses becomes more complex so must it’s understanding and design ability. This small aid provides a more accurate illustration of the UCD model.

Example stages

There are no strict stages for UCD, it’s a methodology, not a strict process. As long as the process remains highly iterative and responsive (free to move forward and back through stages as needed) organisations should tailor to suit their needs.

As an example here is the UCD process illustrated with five development stages.


  • Talk to the user, look at data about the user, observe the user, ask the user questions.


  • Develop a strategy, product concept, business model, requirements, specifications. Run workshops, focus groups and show storyboards to find out what users think about your concept.


  • Develop structure, information architecture, site maps. Do card sorts with the user, wireframes, paper prototypes, flows etc.


  • Design interaction, copy, visuals and see how this influences the users behaviour and emotion.


  • Build it, prototype it, test it with the user, test it in the field.

What’s UCD good for?

UCD leads businesses away from blindly following their own preferences. By following a process that involves the user, objective (not subjective) goals and priorities are established, pain points are identified and the product cycle tracks more closely to the market place. It’s iterative nature is ideal for fine optimizations and evolution over time.

And not so good?

User feedback is almost always useful however, if you’re creating an entirely new product or way of doing things user feedback may require heavy interpretation. Users will mostly provide feedback relating to the world they currently understand. Rarely will they provide outside-the-box feedback that you can utilise directly.

Download this poster

You can download a User Centred Design poster of this model.

Stick it up in your workplace, use it to help illustrate your workflow to colleagues or adapt and build on it.

Article first published on 26 February 2015 on



Dermot Holmes

I write articles about design, business and how to create digital products.