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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsKim Plowright: Have you ever had one of those moments where you're going to go through a door, and you push instead of pull, and you feel like a bit of an idiot? The chances are that what happened there is that you reacted to the design of the door handle without even noticing or realising that that was what was going on. So how do ambiguous designs like that happen? If you forget about the people that use your designs, your users, and forget to check that your designs work in context with those people, your designs may not work in the real world. Design isn't just about appearances. It's not just about that surface.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 secondsIt's about thinking through the way that things actually work. And it's about designing stuff for people to use. Design is about making useful, usable things for people. But sometimes design doesn't quite work the way that we expect. Paying really close attention to people is at the heart of a process called "human-centred design", or HCD for short. It helps you design better things by really understanding people's real needs and designing for those. And it's used in all kinds of areas of industry. Designers will go out and research and observe people's behaviours and use that insight to make their work better.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 secondsGill Wildman: So as designers, we have a huge toolkit that is available for us to use on different projects. And you may hear the phrase "human-centred design" used in many different design contexts. So for example, user experience, agile, design thinking, and in more traditional design contexts such as product design. Certainly for us, design thinking came out of Stanford's d.schools design thinking model, which has a five-step process.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsSo the five stages involve: empathising with your users; defining what the problem is you're going to solve, and so making some kind of problem statement; ideating around that problem, so coming up with a set of ideas; then prototyping that problem, and then testing it on people. Now, of course, this is not a linear process. You don't go from one stage to another stage to another stage. You're often bouncing backwards and forwards. And that's the point. You're iterating on this idea all the way through learning from it, making a new version, putting it in front of people again.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 secondsKim: So it's better to do the hard work of really digging into people's needs and making some really messy, imperfect initial stabs that you can learn from than it is to spend all of your time making this beautiful, polished, perfect thing and discovering late in the day that you made some fundamental assumptions and that it's wrong. And that process and developing empathy in particular really helps you make better stuff that's more ethical and more accessible.

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 secondsCat Drew: Human-centred design is a great tool to really understand people and their needs and what they want. To give you an example about a social situation, social problems are quite complex often. They've gotten lots of different causes and effects. And if you put the human at the centre, a person, and understand their lives, then you can understand all the things that are going on and design for that. And if you think about a more commercial example, you might want to make sure that you are designing things that people really want- so they'll buy them. And not things that they don't want because you'll waste money. And it's really important to use human-centred design to design inclusively.

Skip to 4 minutes and 18 secondsSo we're all different as people. We've all got different needs. We can use things in different ways. And so to design for everyone, we really have to understand different people's perspectives.

Skip to 4 minutes and 29 secondsKim: Any job where you're innovating, trying to come up with new ideas or different solutions to problems or new inventions, is a place where design thinking or human-centred design is useful. There are loads of different approaches to HCD, but they all share a common philosophy.

Skip to 5 minutes and 1 secondBenedicta Banga: At Jaguar Land Rover, I tend to look at human-centred design from the perspective of, what does the end user want to do with the system that I'm creating for them? So I have to understand what they do on a day-to-day basis. I have to understand the sort of problems and challenges they're currently facing with the systems that they're using. And then find ways that I can help them solve those problems and be more efficient in doing their job. And in that way, I'm always consulting with them to say, this is what we've come up with as a proposal, does this work?

Skip to 5 minutes and 41 secondsAnd they'll give me feedback on either it works or why it might be a problem in the context of other processes that they work alongside.

Skip to 5 minutes and 52 secondsKim: All of these techniques are useful because they help you focus on the real people who will be using your thing and the real, genuine needs that they have. If you don't spend time learning about those people at the start of the process, you can't build the right thing for them at the end of it. All of these techniques are ways of developing your empathy and digging deeper into a problem. It helps you to uncover the real drivers and motivations that underlie the things that people say and do.

What is human-centred design?

In this video, our contributors explain the basics: what do we mean by human-centred design?

“A problem is a situation in which something is wrong or less than ideal. Problem solving consists of trying to correct or improve the situation.”
From Problem Solving, Human-Centered Design and Strategic Processes by Paul Brest, Nadia Roumani, and Jason Bade.

Human-centred design (often referred to as HCD) is a creative approach to problem solving and innovation that focuses on understanding the needs, behaviours and limitations of the people who have a problem in order to design a solution that really meets their needs.

If you put people at the heart of your design process, your end result will be more likely to meet people’s expectations and work the way they think it will. It will be more likely to respect their ethical concerns like privacy, and work for diverse groups of people with different needs. It can also save you time and money by avoiding spending it on creating things people don’t actually need or want.

There are many different methods that use a similar approach, including human-centred design, user-centred design, design thinking, co-design, Lean design, HCI, user experience (UX) design, design sprints, among others.

All share the principle that making your solution fit people’s needs, desires and behaviour leads to more successful outcomes than expecting people to change their behaviour to use your product.

The term human-centred design was coined by IDEO, an American design company. A similar method – design thinking – was popularised by Stanford d.school. We’ll use their five-phase model in this course.

The five phases in the human-centred design or design thinking process are:

  1. Empathise with people to understand what they need and their limitations.

  2. Define the problem to make sure people understand the right problem to solve.

  3. Ideate with people to generate ideas for innovative solutions.

  4. Prototype those ideas to show people how they might work.

  5. Test your prototypes to get feedback from people and improve your solution.

It’s not always a linear process, and you might jump back and forth between phases. However, it should always be iterative, reworking and refining your idea as you discover more about the problem.

The HCD process is not just about the thing you’re making. It means thinking deeply about the person using that thing as well as the context they use it in. Ultimately for your product to be successful, people need to love it, and working with them to understand what they need and what they love from the very beginning makes it more likely you’ll achieve that.

Share your thoughts:

  • Can you think of anything else that might have been created using an HCD process?
  • Why do you think focusing on people helped?

Share your ideas in the Comments section.

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This video is from the free online course:

Get Creative with People to Solve Problems

University of Leeds