Understanding the Principles Behind User-Centred Design

11 March 2020

Over the past decade, the concept of user-centred design has gained more attention. What are the principles behind user-centred design? What do you need to do to make sure user-centred design is successful at your organisation?

The History of User-Centred Design

The idea of user-centred design isn’t new; it’s been around since the 1980s.

An American researcher named Donald Norman at the University of California San Diego coined the term ‘user-centred design’ to describe a philosophy and set of design principles that put users first. Over the years, he developed the idea further. Today, you’ll see user-centred designs in many industries, services, and products.

The Principles of User-Centred Design

There are five principles of user-centred design:

  • Understanding the user and task requirements
  • Incorporating user feedback to define requirements and design
  • Early and active user evaluation of the design
  • Integrating user-centred design with other development activities
  • Iterative design process

Understanding the User and Task Requirements

Who is your user? What does your user have to do? That’s the basis for the first principle.

To illustrate this principle, consider the example of a group that’s developing a productivity app. The group members know that not everyone will use their app, so they have to think carefully about who their audience is. Moreover, they must understand what the user will do with this app; will it be a to-do list, a note-taking app, or a planner?

Incorporating User Feedback

For user-centred design to work, the product or service must be built so that its use is successful and enjoyable. Achieving that goal requires user feedback. 

There are a number of ways to get user feedback. You could hold focus groups, interview end-users, survey them, or observe them while they’re using your product or service. Going back to the example of the productivity app designer group, they decide to survey a DevOps team at their office to figure out how best to design their app. They administer the survey by email and then analyse the results.

Early and Active User Evaluation of the Design

It’s not enough that users comment once on a design; a central principle of user-centred design is that they evaluate the design at an early point. Moreover, they take an active role in the evaluation process; their opinion matters significantly. 

Let’s go back to the productivity app designers. They seek out feedback from the DevOps team early on in the design process. Furthermore, the designers take what the end-users say seriously; they don’t dismiss it out of hand, nor do they condescend to users and pretend they’ll consider what they have to say.

Integrating User-Centred Design with Other Development Activities

Another principle of user-centred design is to integrate the idea of user-centred design with other development activities. User-centred design shouldn’t just be confined to one project or one type of service. They should guide everything an organisation does.

What does this look like in practice? Take the productivity app designers. They work for a firm that’s currently incorporating user-centred design principles into all of their projects, not just the productivity app. The organisation’s leadership understands that user-centred design is the key to continued business success.

Iterative Design Process

‘Iterative design process’ means that a product or service is designed and redesigned until it fulfills user requirements. This principle ties into the one about seeking early and active user evaluation, because user assessments are what drive iterative design.

Let’s say that the productivity app designers have sought user feedback from the DevOps team every time they make a change. The DevOps team reviews the changes, comments on them, and then sends them back to the designers. It takes three rounds of design to get it right, but finally, the productivity app designers submit a finished product that the DevOps team accepts

Why Do You Need to Understand User-Centred Design Principles?

Why should you make the effort to understand user-centred design principles? There are four reasons:

  • Reduced support costs
  • Increased conversion rates and revenue
  • Increased efficiency
  • Increased engagement

Reduced Support Costs

When you design products and services that take the user experience into account, you’ll see lower support costs. Why is that?

Products and services built on the principles of user-centred design are intuitive to use. Users aren’t as confused and won’t need as much support to utilise your product or service.

Increased Conversion Rates and Revenue

User-centred design generates greater conversion rates and higher revenue. The reason for that lies in the ease of use of products and services.

When a product or service is easy to use, people want to use it and become customers. More customers equals more revenue.

Increased Efficiency

By studying the user experience, you can create a great product or service. In fact, it can even make people more efficient. Why is that?

Building products or services based on user experience means that you understand the way users work as well as what they have to do. That way, they can get their work done faster.

Increased User Engagement

User-centred design principles boost user engagement, too. It takes the user experience into account while also making it better.

When the user experience is better, users will want to keep working with you. As a result, they’ll spend more money with you (which ties into the earlier point about increased conversion rates and revenue).

Enlighten Designs: Helping You Put User-Centred Design Principles in Place

User experience is at the heart of our design process so that you and your customers can benefit from intuitive products and services that are a delight to utilise. Learn more about how we can provide user-centred solutions for all your Web & CMS needs and beyond.

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