What's the point of human-centred design?

You’ve no doubt heard the phrases human-centred (or human-centered) design and user experience (UX). They inevitably pop up in the process of designing new, or optimising existing, products and services, and not just digital ones. 

But are they really bringing you the value they promise? Is it worth investing the time and resources to include user experience in product development? How can you determine the benefits of adopting the human-centred approach and communicate them back to your organisation?

Sitemap for tourism product — Despark

Human-first design is a creative approach to problem-solving that starts with people and ends with innovative solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs.

When you understand the people you’re trying to reach, and design from their perspective, not only will you arrive at unexpected answers, but you’ll come up with ideas that they’ll embrace.

Within the framework of the human-first design approach, user experience design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant journeys, typically at the interface between humans and technology. UX design is about enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility and experience provided by interaction with the product. It is concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function.

Donald A. Norman coined the term “user experience” when he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple in the mid-1990s.

What can human-first design do for my organisation?

Simply put, it adds value. When you’re making an investment in a new product or a service, adopting the user-centered design approach arms you with a powerful tool to identify challenges up front. Understanding the needs, pain points and intentions of your target users is the key to providing them with a valuable product. 

The User Experience Professionals Association lists 6 key benefits of applying UX design principles:

  • increased productivity,
  • increased sales,
  • decreased training and support costs,
  • reduced development time and costs,
  • reduced maintenance costs and
  • increased customer satisfaction.

Adding UX to the design and development process can help you avoid mistakes such as unrealistic project goals, inaccurate project estimation, and poor communication between customers, developers, and users. Part of the user-centered design approach is involving users and stakeholders in each phase of the project lifecycle, guiding the product development. 

In addition, implementing UX design principles allows you to measure success in terms of user performance and satisfaction, as well as calculating ROI. Keeping the users’ needs and pain points in mind while developing your product and adapting your solution according to feedback makes your product better at solving the user’s problem. This affects your conversion rates, user engagement, and customer retention. 

How to design with the user in mind


Whether you’re designing physical or digital solutions, such as mobile applications, the human-centred design process consists of several phases. 

1. Ideate

This is your discovery journey. The first step is to understand who you’re designing for and why. Identify the people who will use your product, what they will use it for, how and where. You need to be observing the end user, learning, and open to creative possibilities. 

Monitor the existing touch points, identify patterns of behaviour, and watch for the moments users struggle. This is where your market opportunity lies. 

Then start brainstorming ideas. Keep your focus on the needs and desires of the people you’re designing for. Focus on ways to optimise the existing processes by saving users' time, using fewer resources and improving quality. One problem, one app, is a useful rule of thumb that applies to more than mobile applications.

2. Validate

You’ve learned a lot about your users, their problems, and goals. But it is too early to start creating solutions. Investigate some more. This is the time to conduct in-depth research to challenge your assumptions. Answer these questions: Does my idea bring value to the user? How? Will my solution drive engagement or hinder it? Will it increase loyalty?

Specify what you will be measuring: Identify any business requirements that must be met for the product to be successful. Make sure you’ve understood the goals and perspectives of all the stakeholders, including the heads of Sales, Marketing, Creative, CEOs, CTOs, CFOs. Map out the product objectives and compare them to business objectives.

3. Create a design solution

Create a solution to the problem you have identified. Simplify as much as you can. At this stage your goal is not to create the perfect solution, but to begin validating your concept. As soon as you can build a prototype of your idea with minimum resources, you will be able to get user feedback.

4. Test it

You think you’ve got it? Put your prototype in the hands of the real users - the people you’re designing for. Here is an example of how we set up user testing to gather maximum information. 

User feedback is a critical phase of any human-centred design process. Without input from your end user, you won’t know if your idea falls flat. It provides the crucial nudge you need to evolve your design and bridge your product’s UX gaps.  

Use the data and make the iterations it suggests. Optimise. Then optimise again. Keep testing and polishing, integrating user feedback, until your users and you are both satisfied with the product.

5. Launch

Get your solution out there - put it on the market and validate it. Consider your marketing strategy - does it fit your users’ behaviour?  Are you using the right channels? 

Carefully listen to consumers’ feedback. Sometimes a side-functionality of your product is the one your users really love. Change in accordance, so you can drive your business forward.

6. Continuously optimise

The implementation stage of your product is not where your journey ends. Customer feedback will continue to fuel changes to your design. 

Monitor UX feedback and design iterations to increase the value of your product. Make use of A/B testing, analysis, and optimisations to create a better experience for your end user. With every iteration, go back to phase one of this process and repeat. 

Creating meaningful experiences through problem-solving should be the driving force behind every product improvement you make.

Here’s an example of how we improved the user experience for a major bank.

So there it is: The human-centred design framework is about problem-solving with the people for the people. In essence, it’s about designing a product or service that people need, find useful and easy to work with, as opposed to creating something that you think they would like.

Want more inspiration? Check out our recent work.