In the rapidly changing technology-driven society, solutions to myriad of needs and wants are created by entrepreneurs and startups. At times, needs unknown to the end-user are addressed, whether it be on the consumer side or the business side. Apart from the influx of apps and SaaS platforms that are flooding the marketing, what remains interesting is the shift towards user-centric approach and solutions. The better the user experience (UX) and satisfaction, the happier the user. While UX principles have been employed in the software solutions for many years, it failed to take into account the broader context within which the product or service is utilized. Specifically:

• the environment within which the solution is used (company or society)
• the users (consumers or professionals)
• the technology (software, hardware, app, SaaS)


Image Source: RubyGarage

What is Human-Centered Design?

These three dynamics are the fundamental to human-centered design (HCD). HCD is a holistic and dynamic approach that is both top-down and bottom-up. In today’s market, solutions must simplify complexities, providing users with the capability to achieve what they intend to do using the solution with minimal time spent understanding the nuances of the solution. Traditional development approach which yielded legacy software solutions in the 90s and the early 2000s was often void of usability, lacked clarity, and complex on the front end. Users had to devote considerable amount of time to understand the solution in order to effectively use it, even though understanding the use of the solution was not part of the task at hand.

Why Human-centered?

So what changed? HCD in various forms has been around for few decades, tracing its origins back to perhaps to aeronautics and other related domains. In modern times, HCD is gaining momentum in myriad of domains, everything from aerospace to Internet of Things (IoT) and healthcare (digital health). Indeed today, user-centricity is evolving towards human-centered, evolving beyond UX and UI. It is not merely the front-end that is user centric, but an entire solution built around the user.

In fact, solutions MUST be developed using an HCD approach, do not simply consider how to simplify controls or make the solution intuitive, understand the context within which the solution will be used, understand the purpose of the solution, and possible use cases. Think of the context within which the solution will be used – where, when, why, how, what. Begin with these questions when developing the product/ solution. If the product is being developed for a customer, capture their vision and mission. Let the customer’s narrative pave a path to determining the requirements.

How to Design?

mitroff.fig1_Image Source: MW2013: Museums and the Web 2013

In the development cycle, HCD is emphasized during the requirements and design phase unlike traditional development approach that often uses patches to correct faults and gaps after development. During this phase, requirements are established based on the client/user input, the context of the use cases is determined, possible simulations based on use cases can be conducted. What HCD emphasizes are interactions:
• Interactions between the user and the technology
• Interactions between the user and the environment
• Interactions between the technology and the environment

Understand the interactions based on the context; subsequently, prototype(s) can be built, tested, refined, and pushed into production. While HCD can be applied throughout the lifecycle of a product, emphasize is placed on design, thus, early phase during development.
Design doesn’t simply mean product design, but also environment (i.e. organizational, society, etc..) and the user. User and environment design is more about designing the structure, training, and awareness of the product and technology. Depending on the nature of your endeavor, you might be responsible for product design only, or may need to work with users and the organization(s).
Either ways, begin with the idea and the human, the rest will follow.