5 Human Centred Design Tips

One of the newer philosophies in UX is the idea of human centered design. Considering usability is increasingly important as software grows in complexity while simultaneously growing in ubiquity, new ways to ensure that it’s easy to use are pretty important. Among the various proposed solutions is the human centered design, or HCD. It’s also called user centered design, for those who mistake them for being different things. They’re the same thing, but somehow, two terms came into being for it. That happens a lot, and I hate that. But, HCD is a difficult thing to work with, because while the idea is fantastic, it has its share of drawbacks. Considering it’s the philosophy of focusing on user needs by way of process order, terminology and interface design through every phase of development, it’s easy for it to get away with you at various points. We’re going to look at a few pointers to keep that from happening. #1 – Common Denominators Don’t mistake this for being literally a mathematical thing. It’s just another way of saying that, when you do your initial focus research to find out what it is users need out of your design, you need to find the most common consensus for what’s expected, and hammer that into a more uniform idea. It’s unfortunate, but majority does rule, and so, the bulk of your users’ expectations should be your initial goal. It’s easy for this to be the first place it gets away from you, trying to meet too many conflicting user ideals. #2 – Involve Cooperative Design from Paper Prototype Onward If you want to use HCD principles, then a good way to maintain a realistic connection to user needs is to actually adhere to some cooperative design ideals, and involve the end users in the prototyping phases from paper prototype onward. This isn’t always practical, if the software’s NDA prevents this kind of public exposure this early, but if it’s doable, then it’s a good idea. #3 – Factor in Accessibility Accessibility should always be an important factor, but it’s often something factored in later design phases in most approaches to UX. However, with HCD, it should actually be acknowledged in every phase from the beginning onward, and be a driving force in the human needs centrism you’re trying to maintain. To do otherwise will defeat the very broad, user compatibility you’re trying to achieve with this mentality to begin with. I’ve seen this happen many times. #4 – Test for Multiple Interfaces You may have worked out an interfacing standard that meets the user expectations you’ve measured, via your specific target platform. However, even if you’re not targeting devices dependent upon other interface methods (graphics tablets, multi-touch touchscreens, voice commands or whatnot), you should test for user compatibility with these devices, because some users may actually prefer using them, even with a PC. I, for example, use a Wacom graphics tablet in place of a mouse on my PC, and it has subtle nuances that could affect how easy using something might be, with it. #5 – Malleable Models One of the easiest ways to cover the fringe users and account for divergent mindsets without compromising is to design your model to be easily reshaped within limit by the users. This means hiding/showing different interface elements, and reorganizing their size and placement etc. Design the default layout to meet your target mindsets for HCD, but allow users to rearrange the layouts, and save them with labels. Adobe’s authoring programs such as Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator famously do this, as do several of Microsoft’s designs. Once, this was impractical with SaaS, but the dynamism of HTML5 has changed this. So, if you’re going to attempt human centered design, take these suggestions to heart, or this WILL get away from you.


Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com