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What is User-Centered Design?

User-centered design (UCD) is an approach to design that grounds the process in information about the people who will use the product. UCD processes focus on users through the planning, design and development of a product.

An International Standard

There is an international standard that is the basis for many UCD methodologies. This standard (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process) defines a general process for including human-centered activities throughout a development life-cycle, but does not specify exact methods.

Diagram of a UCD process from the ISO 13407 standard

In this model, once the need to use a human centered design process has been identified, four activities form the main cycle of work:

  1. Specify the context of use
    Identify the people who will use the product, what they will use it for, and under what conditions they will use it.
  2. Specify requirements
    Identify any business requirements or user goals that must be met for the product to be successful.
  3. Create design solutions
    This part of the process may be done in stages, building from a rough concept to a complete design.
  4. Evaluate designs
    The most important part of this process is that evaluation - ideally through usability testing with actual users - is as integral as quality testing is to good software development.

The process ends - and the product can be released - once the requirements are met.

A Typical UCD Methodology

UPA Poster imageMost user-centered design methodologies are more detailed in suggesting specific activities, and the time within a process when they should be completed. The UXPA publishes a poster, Designing the User Experience, showing a typical UCD process.

In this version, the UCD activities are broken down into four phases: Analysis, Design, Implementation and Deployment, with suggested activities for each phase. They are:

Analysis Phase

  • Meet with key stakeholders to set vision
  • Include usability tasks in the project plan
  • Assemble a multidisciplinary team to ensure complete expertise
  • Develop usability goals and objectives
  • Conduct field studies
  • Look at competitive products
  • Create user profiles
  • Develop a task analysis
  • Document user scenarios
  • Document user performance requirements

Design Phase

  • Begin to brainstorm design concepts and metaphors
  • Develop screen flow and navigation model
  • Do walkthroughs of design concepts
  • Begin design with paper and pencil
  • Create low-fidelity prototypes
  • Conduct usability testing on low-fidelity prototypes
  • Create high-fidelity detailed design
  • Do usability testing again
  • Document standards and guidelines
  • Create a design specification

Implementation Phase

  • Do ongoing heuristic evaluations
  • Work closely with delivery team as design is implemented
  • Conduct usability testing as soon as possible

Deployment Phase

  • Use surveys to get user feedback
  • Conduct field studies to get info about actual use
  • Check objectives using usability testing

You may notice that "usability testing" appears several times throughout the process, from the first phase to the last.

Providing a great user experience is an ongoing process.

You can find more information about usability and user-centered design guidelines and methodologies in the rest of the resources section of the UXPA web site.

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