Human-centered design

This sounds so natural and at the same time so strange.


Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. The process begins with people and ends with a solution that fits their needs.


If you're a designer, or work in the "product" world this sounds completely natural. But if your day doesn't involve reading tweets from Jared Spool, or studying some infograph from Luke Wroblewski, or even logging into your InVision account the term "human-centered might sound strange or even come off a little arrogant.


Let me assure you it is not an arrogant approach to design. Rather it's quite the opposite. When done right it is a process that is full of empathy and caring. When done right it solve problems, large and small. How do I find a restaurant nearby? How do I send a quick note to my spouse? How do I reduce food waste in my city? How can we improve life for young adults with Schizophrenia?


The process of solving problems is always the same. It starts with a definition of the problem followed by a discovery phase. Once the problem is understood you begin to ideate. This is another design word. It means to form ideas, or think. Now that you have some ideas you need to make something, something that can be tested. This is the "human" part of "human-centered" design: Testing.


You've taken time to understand the problem. You've stepped back and looked at the larger context. You've made something. Now you need to watch how it is used. You do this by setting up simple usability tests. Now this can part can look very different depending on the problem you are trying to solve. But basically it is done through a series of 1 on 1 interviews. These interviews should last about an hour. This is not a guided exploration or a long survey. This is a time for thoughtful questions and close observation. This is where so much learning takes place. If you let it.


You need to see this process as a simple loop. Learn > Iterate > Build > Test. This loop is repeated until you get consistently positive results from the test. At this point you need to scale the solution. If you're building an app or website you begin working with a developer. If you are trying to reduce food waste in  your city you might begin working with city officials and people in the food industry.


Problems large or small can be solved through a creative line of thinking that is centered around human action and behavior.


More human-centered design resources:



Other credits:

Jared Spool @jmspool

Luke Wroblewski @lukew

InVision @InVisionApp