Human-Centered Design [HCD] Definition & Process – Digital Leadership

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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, behavior, 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.

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 keep your customers at the core of each step of the way.

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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?

To fully understand what human-centered 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 creative 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.


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-centered interdisciplinary approach, there are three main stages in every human-centered design process:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Ideation
  3. Implementation.

We will talk extensively on 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 thought and start on a 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 own 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 on 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).

Related: The UNITE Value Proposition Canvas: The Beating Heart of the Business Model

Human-Centered Design Thinking Vs. Human-Centered Design

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?

Human-centered design thinking looks at the bigger picture: it focuses on digital innovation and creating products/services that solve problems.

The human-centered design looks at the details. It is a way of improving user experience and satisfying their needs.

Whilst Human-Centered Design is a process; Human-centered design thinking is a mindset.

Despite their slight differences, the two can be used in conjunction, providing you with the mindset (Human-centered design thinking) and the tools/processes (Human-centered design) for creating products or services that solve users’ problems.

Human-centered Design Examples

1. Colgate Toothbrush

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, centered on how to solve a user’s problem. They knew consumers need slender toothbrushes that could still deliver on performance – an issue that had not been previously addressed in the toothbrush industry.

2. Spotify

Spotify is one of the best human-centered design examples. In the days where people struggled to pay $1.99 for one song, Spotify identified with the pain of users and created a system where users can get all their favorite 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 their users’ struggle to purchase music from disparate sources and came up with a lasting solution everyone could embrace.

3. Fitbit

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.


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 are 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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