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What is human-centred design? A product framework that embraces empathy

HCD is a design framework centred around end-user desires and needs. Implementing it can help a company design and deliver high-quality products and customer experiences

Human-centred design (HCD) is a design framework for creating products, services, hardware and software that are built to meet the specific needs of clients, users or customers.

HCD is typically used in technology when developing products or services that are intended to alleviate problems or issues, especially when those problems are health-related.

Whether it’s creating apps that are as user-friendly as possible — so that people will actually use them — or designing accessibility products to address a specific disability or health need, human-centred design focuses on the human first.

Instead of attempting to design products or services with profits, savings or aesthetics in mind, the goal is to create hardware, software, products and services that take the human end-user into deep consideration. If the ultimate goal is to create a product that people will want to use, then it will be important to embrace HCD from the start of the development process.

Human-centred design process

As a design framework, HCD requires empathy and a lot of reflection throughout the design process. It’s not a framework that takes cleanly from A to Z, with specific steps to follow. To develop the best products possible with the HCD framework, CIOs will have to jump around between phases and regularly go back to the drawing board.

Human-centred design is more about getting into the head space of the intended audience in order to develop solutions that will help users be more productive, efficient or comfortable.

Human-centred design principles

The main objective of HCD is to create products that people want to use because, ultimately, the more usable the end-product, the more likely that businesses will have customers willing to pay for it. HCD can improve products, but it can also improve profits, as people are typically willing to pay more for well-designed products, services, hardware and software that are easy to use and intuitively designed.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules for following the HDC framework, there are some general principles that CIOs will want to follow when embracing this framework.

The core design principles of human-centred design include:

  • A dedication to improving the user experience, reducing stress and avoiding discomfort for end-users. This includes increasing accessibility and thinking outside just the average user when deciding on features and design elements
  • Improve productivity of users by creating products and services that are designed to be intuitive, natural and easy to use, which can also help reduce costs associated with training and support
  • Create a competitive advantage for a company or brand by establishing CIOs as a leader in human-centred design and showing they have a dedication to considering the customer when developing products and services
  • Maintain a focus on sustainability in product development — both by creating products that have lower environmental impacts and by creating products that will keep customers happy over the long-term and that can grow and change with the industry and technology.

Human-centred design vs. design thinking

Human-centred design shares a lot of similarities with the design thinking methodology, but there are specific differences that set the two apart.

Human-centred design and design thinking both have a strong emphasis on empathy, as they both are about figuring out what the user or client needs or wants and then making that a main focus of the development process. But the main difference between the two is that HCD functions as a framework and design thinking is one approach to that framework.

Design thinking is about discovering new avenues to create or design prototypes to repeatedly test and refine products. It’s more focused on the user, customer or client — and while it has a focus on empathy, it’s not specifically focused on humans.

For instance, with design thinking, if CIOs are creating a process or service to help improve AI or a technology service, they might need to get inside the “head” of the AI or evaluate processes rather than spend time considering a human end-user.

Human-centred design, on the other hand, specifically focuses on humans and empathising with what humans need and want out of products, services, hardware and software.

Human-centred design jobs

While CIOs will find that plenty of design jobs, especially in technology, will require knowledge of human-centred design, there are some jobs where it will be the primary focus of a career.

Jobs that require human-centred design skills include:

  • UX researchers
  • UX architects
  • UX designers
  • Interaction designer
  • User centered designer
  • Design and project coordinators
  • Organizational change management consultant
  • Design or creative director

Human-centred design courses

Human-centred design is an important skill in technology, especially if CIOs work in any type of development or creative roles. And, while they can’t get a degree specifically in human-centred design, they can boost skills and earn clout for their resume through a number of training courses and workshops designed to teach the fundamentals of HCD.