Human-Centered Design [HCD] Definition, Process & Examples

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Experience Design

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The most effective way to satisfy your target market is by understanding their needs and coming up with products/services that meet those needs. Not only will they embrace every product/service you provide, but your revenue will also increase. This is what human centered design helps you achieve.
Sometimes referred to as “participatory design,” human-centered design focuses on customers’ everyday thinking, behaviour, and emotions. It is a creative approach to problem-solving and product design that involves the end-users from the very beginning and places them at the heart of the digital innovation and design process. The result of the human-centric design is superior products and services.

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In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about human-centered design, including human-centered design thinking and the human-centered design process.

What is Human Centered Design

Human-Centered Design (HCD) is a methodology that centres the design process around the user. It aims to thoroughly comprehend users’ needs, behaviors, and experiences in order to develop impactful solutions tailored to address their specific challenges and preferences.

To fully understand what human centred design is, let’s begin with what it’s not. Imagine you work with a gaming company, and one day your boss says, “Teenagers spend more time online with their phones these days, let’s come up with a crossword-puzzle board game that would keep them busy offline.” He might have good intentions, but his intentions for designing that crossword puzzle board game don’t match your target audience’s actual reality at the moment. His ideas do not resonate with the end user’s actual passions and aren’t a solution that fits their actual needs and wants.

What then is human-centered design?

Human centered-design is a problem-solving approach that requires you to put your customer’s needs first when solving problems, designing products, etc. To use human-centered design effectively for your business innovation or innovative process, you must deeply understand your customers, empathize with a real problem they face, and come up with solutions they will appreciate and embrace.

Human-centered design in one sentence means creating products and services to solve your customer’s problems and helping them live better lives.

Human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that requires you to put your customer’s needs first. The UNITE Innovation Approach helps you plan and structure your business from start to finish and keeps your customers at the core of each step of the way.

Innovation Process - Process Approach
The Unite Innovation Approach
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG

Now, let’s consider a real example of human-centered design: HelloFresh.


HelloFresh was founded in 2011 by Jessica Nilsson, Thomas Griesel, and Dominik Richter. The company is a meal subscription company that delivers a box of fresh food to your doorstep, including easy recipes. The founders identified that most people do not have the time to shop for groceries themselves and also struggle to create a healthy, affordable meal routine. Therefore, they came up with an idea to solve these two problems.

Unlike our first gaming company illustration, the founders of HelloFresh did not come up with an idea unrelated to their customer’s actual needs. Rather, they identified a problem people were facing and created a solution to it. In this way, we see that human-centered design is a more effective approach to problem-solving.

Therefore, whether your role requires you to design products or pitch ideas in business meetings, it’s essential that you know the process of human-centered design. By putting your target audience at the center and forefront of your innovative process, you’re ensuring each product you create is a true solution to your customer’s needs.

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If you engage the human-centered design process effectively, you’ll gain a much more reliable and loyal customer base.

Human-Centered Design Process

According to IDEO, a design company known for its human-centred interdisciplinary approach, there are three main stages in every human-centered design process:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Ideation
  3. Implementation.

We will talk extensively about each of the stages below:

Stage 1: Inspiration

Your goal at this stage is to understand your customers on a more human level. Before you design any problem, you need to frame your design challenge. Define the problem you want to solve without being too shallow or too broad. This is a very critical step because it helps you define your scope, organize your thoughts and start on the right note. Then, create a project plan and build a team to work with.
Build an interdisciplinary team that combines industry expertise and technical know-how with fresh perspectives and new ideas. You might be dazzled at how much an unexpected team member like a graphic designer has to contribute.
Conduct secondary research before jumping into customer conversations. Reading recent innovations, the latest news and existing solutions will help you design better products and services that your customers will embrace. Once you have a clearly defined baseline, you will have a better understanding of the kind of people you need to attract to your team. With the right team in place, you’re ready to jump into customer conversations/interviews. You can conduct both group interviews and interviews with experts.
Outside interviews, there are other amazing ways you can get in touch with your target market, such as through immersion. This generally involves immersing yourself in the lives of your target market/customers and shadowing them in their environment. You can also get ideas, information, or feedback from your customers through surveys.

Stage 2: Ideation

This stage involves generating ideas based on your findings from the first stage, identifying design opportunities, and testing out potential solutions. You need to work with your team members to come up with excellent products and services that customers will embrace.

Have team members share their thoughts and ideas. Do not despise or look down on any team member. You might be amazed at the smart ideas you will get from your team members. Moreover, brainstorm and generate all the ideas you got from the conversation/interview with your target audience/customers in the first stage.

Now, you’re ready to synthesize your ideas.

Start by writing down the top ideas or themes that resonate with the customer’s needs. This helps you to begin to strategize, prioritize and uncover hidden insights. After you have done this, identify emerging patterns. Are there ideas/themes that keep appearing?
Next, you’re ready to create “insight statements.” These are succinct statements/sentences that represent your ideology. Ideally, you should have about three to five of them. For example, your “insight statement” can be something like “customers say it’s stressful to look at their monitors for extended periods of time.”

Your primary target here is to translate the insight statement into an innovative idea for design by asking, “How can we design a computer screen that is easier on people’s eyes?”

You can now brainstorm possible solutions based on your design opportunities to generate as many ideas as possible.

Stage 3: Implementation

This final stage is where the rubber meets the road, and your product/service finally hits the market. Most small business startups find it helpful, to begin with running their solution for a couple of days in the real world or live prototyping. That way they can test out parts of their products to ascertain whether it meets the needs of the customers. Some organizations have the required finances/resources to conduct a longer-term pilot that allows them to collect critical feedback. Other companies will head straight to creating a plan of action to get their products/services launched.
Choose the innovation strategy that works best for your business.

You need a funding strategy to ensure you have access to the resources needed to set your business on course. Think through when you will need to break even and how you’ll bridge your strategy to something more long-term. Sometimes, you will need to build partnerships to access the resources and capital needed to get your products to the market. Do not hesitate to build such partnerships where necessary and applicable.
In any case, define what business success means to you (financially, from a customer perspective, and operationally).

Human Centered Design Principles to Guide the Agile Evolution of Startups

Adhering to the principles of Human-Centered Design (HCD) not only enriches the innovation process but also seamlessly aligns with and enhances the generated points:

1) Transcend Your Own Great Idea:

The HCD principle of moving beyond personal biases and assumptions mirrors the imperative in startup failures to avoid being entrenched in singular, predetermined notions.

2) Embrace Diverse Perspectives:

Encouraging openness to various viewpoints, as highlighted in HCD, resonates with the necessity for cross-functional collaboration within startups, as seen in the Scrum methodology.

3) Immerse in Real-World Contexts:

Spending time with real people in authentic environments, as promoted by HCD, directly connects with the customer-centric approaches emphasized in both Scrum and the Business Model Canvas.

4) Identify and Engage a Broad User Base:

Recognizing a diverse user base aligns seamlessly with Scrum’s emphasis on diverse team members and stakeholders actively contributing to the development process.

5) Adapt to Users’ Evolving Needs:

HCD’s principle of following users’ lead and evolving needs mirrors the agile nature of Scrum, promoting iterative development and responsiveness to changing requirements.

6) Envision the Entire Product Journey:

HCD’s holistic perspective, considering the entire product journey, resonates with the Business Model Canvas, encouraging a comprehensive view of the business model and product lifecycle.

7) Iterate Through Prototyping and Testing:

The iterative approach of prototyping and testing in HCD aligns with the continuous refinement and adaptation principles advocated by both Scrum and the Business Model Canvas.

8) Encourage Multidisciplinary Collaboration:

HCD principles foster collaboration across disciplines, emphasizing that effective solutions emerge from diverse perspectives. This mirrors the cross-functional teamwork encouraged in Scrum for comprehensive problem-solving.

9) Cultivate Empathy for Users:

An essential tenet of HCD is understanding users deeply. This aligns with Scrum’s emphasis on customer-centricity, emphasizing that empathy for end-users is pivotal in creating meaningful and impactful solutions.

In concert, these principles reinforce a user-centric, adaptive approach that is essential for navigating the complexities and uncertainties inherent in startup environments. They underscore the importance of continuous learning, collaboration, and responsiveness, forming a robust foundation for success in the dynamic startup landscape.

Human-centered Design Examples

1- Ideo Human Centered Design

IDEO, a global design and innovation firm founded in 1991, has been a pioneering force in championing Human-Centered Design (HCD). At the core of IDEO’s approach is a three-phase process that begins with gaining inspiration through empathetic research and direct engagement with end-users. This phase seeks to deeply understand users’ needs and challenges in their everyday contexts. The subsequent ideation phase fosters creativity and collaboration within cross-disciplinary teams, generating a diverse range of innovative solutions. The final implementation phase involves prototyping and testing, with a focus on rapid iteration based on real-world feedback.

IDEO’s application of HCD spans various industries, from healthcare to consumer products, resulting in impactful projects such as the redesign of shopping carts and the development of user-friendly medical devices. Beyond individual projects, IDEO has significantly contributed to the broader adoption of HCD principles, offering resources like the “Human-Centered Design Toolkit” to guide organizations and individuals in applying these principles to their own innovation endeavors. IDEO’s enduring commitment to HCD underscores its influence in shaping design thinking as a holistic, empathetic, and user-focused approach to problem-solving and innovation.

2. Colgate Toothbrush Human Centered Design

Colgate’s ACTi-Brush was first launched in 1990, but since then, competitor’s toothbrushes have surpassed Colgate’s on the market. Colgate decided to hire Altitude, a design consulting firm focused on human-centered design, to create a new toothbrush model.
The Altitude team did an amazing job. They developed a new slimmer high-powered toothbrush with an arcing neck and oscillating heads.
The entire product, from performance to superficial features, centred on how to solve a user’s problem. They knew consumers needed slender toothbrushes that could still deliver on performance – an issue that had not been previously addressed in the toothbrush industry.

3. Fitbit Human Centered Design

Before handy fitness trackers, people had to estimate how many calories burned each day to find the inherent motivation to continue. This method, however, is unreliable.
The advent of products like Fitbit is, undeniably, one of the best human-centered design examples. The inventors of fitness trackers identified people’s challenges with tracking and maintaining fitness goals and provided a lasting solution.
The product was designed with the user in mind solving the effectiveness associated with other traditional estimation methods.

4. Spotify Human Centered Design

Spotify is one of the best human-centred design examples. In the days when people struggled to pay $1.99 for one song, Spotify identified with the pain of users and created a system where users could get all their favourite songs at a go, all for one monthly subscription.
It proved to the world that the previous method of purchasing music was a problem. Spotify excelled by empathizing with its users’ struggle to purchase music from disparate sources and came up with a lasting solution everyone could embrace.

5- Samsung Free Style Human Centered Design

Samsung’s Free Style embodies Human-Centered Design by offering a flexible, portable projector that prioritizes user convenience. Its intuitive interface and adaptable design cater to varying user preferences, ensuring a seamless and personalized experience.

6- Venmo Human Centered Design

Venmo’s success in the digital payment space is rooted in Human-Centered Design. Its straightforward and socially connected platform simplifies money transactions, reflecting a deep understanding of users’ desire for easy, social, and secure financial interactions.

7- Apple (Apple Store) Human Centered Design

Apple’s retail experience epitomizes Human-Centered Design. From the layout of its stores to the design of products, Apple prioritizes user interactions. The Apple Store’s minimalist aesthetics, hands-on product displays, and knowledgeable staff contribute to an immersive and customer-centric shopping experience.

Human-Centered Design Vs. Human-Centered Design Thinking

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving, when it comes to the world of product development and design, there are two terms that always come to mind: Human-centered design thinking and Human-centered design. Both concepts are extremely popular when it comes to creating the best product or solving problems. However, there is little difference between the two concepts.

What is Human-Centered Design Thinking?

Human-centered design thinking is a problem-solving process that begins with understanding a target market’s problem and focusing on how to solve it.

What is Human-Centered Design?

Human-centered design is a problem-solving process that focuses primarily on the people you’re designing a product for. It begins with establishing who your target market is and what problem they’re currently facing and ends with finding a lasting solution well-tailored to address the problem.

What then are the key differences between the two concepts?

AspectHuman-Centered Design (HCD)Human-Centered Design Thinking
DefinitionA comprehensive design approach focusing on placing end-users at the core of the design process.The mindset, principles, and strategies employed in the design process with a focus on human needs and experiences.
ScopeAn overarching design philosophy that guides the entire design process.The application of specific methods and mindsets within the HCD philosophy.
ProcessTypically follows a structured process of inspiration, ideation, and implementation.Involves steps like empathizing with users, defining problems, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing.
Approach to UsersSeeks to deeply understand users’ needs, behaviors, and experiences.Prioritizes empathy and a user-centric approach throughout the problem-solving process.
IterationEncourages iterative development and refinement based on user feedback.Emphasizes a creative, iterative, and user-centric approach to problem-solving.
ApplicationApplied across various design disciplines, from product design to service design.Widely used in diverse industries for problem-solving and innovation.
MindsetEncompasses a holistic design mindset that places users at the center of the entire process.Represents the mindset and strategies employed by designers and problem-solvers to address challenges.
Key PrinciplesEmphasis on empathy, collaboration, and cross-disciplinary teamwork.Creative problem-solving, rapid prototyping, and a bias towards action.


We believe that the information provided in this article will help you better understand the concept of human-centered design and how it works in our daily lives. Amazingly, the design that makes our lives easier is mostly human-centered designs. The goal of this approach is to better user experience and bridge the gap between users and products.

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