Defining User-Centered Design
The term user-centered has been a long time coming. It’s time tested knowledge that in order to work optimally, a system – whether digital or print – must speak the language of the user. In decades past, this has come to be known as user-friendly, user-centric, user-first and so on. In the recent past, however, a shift has occurred to refine the actual needs of a user, creating a truly usable and functional system that satisfies any and all tasks in the most seamless way imaginable – enter user-centered design (UCD).
An emerging philosophy, the goal of user-centered design is simple: meet the needs of the end user at all touchpoints within the design and interface lifecycle. Whether labeling it ‘user-centered’ design or not, the process of focusing on the needs of the user is implemented across industry and platform as a benchmark of best practices.
The distinction between UCD and UX can get blurred. User-centered design is regularly approached along with the implementation of UX strategies, and rightly so. User-centered design is one of the fundamental guideposts of the user experience practice, however UCD is the process with which the end result is accomplished.
To truly achieve a user-centered design, a multi-step process is comprised of phases that should integrate to the experience:
Whether newly launching or a redesign, the immersion of understanding the user and their relationship with the product/brand is necessary. Tasks include user personas, journey mapping, analytic review and creative briefs. This step includes strategic initial and developmental meetings and or check-ins with stakeholders.
Mapping the ideal journey for the user from the data, the design gets fleshed out. All the data in the world can be gathered, however, if the design is not implemented well, the end result will fail. Designers and strategists must work together to disseminate the results of the data to determine navigation, best calls to action and conversion points. Items as basic as color and type become a huge factor in user-centered usability factors.
The functionality of a system is the make or break moment for the user. From time it takes to complete a task to the availability of information all the way to speed – development must be implemented skillfully and in union with the design. Designers and developers must work hand in hand to deliver the most seamless experience.
Once the product is launched, it will be critical to notice user patterns for continual optimization. Understanding that the needs of a user can change quite regularly requires a fine balance of knowing when to revise the strategy or stay the course. Conducting user outreach from surveys to testing can help with community building and heighten trust in listening to the user.
While user-centered design may seem like a basic in the process of delivering a great system, many are not putting all the steps into place. Each step of the way, there must be integration into the next in order to create the ideal experience for the user.1