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What is user-centred design?

"Or should that be usage-centred design?"

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User-centred design (UCD) is a design philosophy in which the needs, wants and aptitudes of real people are the focus of attention at each stage of a design process.


Usability; human-centred design (HCD); user experience design; experiential design; usability engineering; human-computer interaction (HCI); human factors


Applying UCD principles to a project is a way of ensuring that the usability of a product or system is good. UCD is characterised by multi-stage problem solving, which requires designers to (a) iteratively analyse and predict how users will use an interface, and (b) test the validity of their assumptions with regard to user behaviour in the real world.

UCD is a participatory design model, borrowing freely from interaction design, interface design and other design practises.

How do you do user-centred design?
UCD is simple, really. Here's what you do:

  • Learn who the user is and design for them
  • Create a prototype to test with users
  • Revise the prototype based on what you learn
  • Repeat steps 2 and 3 n times

User-centred design has been applied to a diverse range of user interactions, from websites and mobile phones through to car dashboards and specific kinds of restaurant interactions.

When user-centred design is applied to more than single user interactions, it's often referred to as user experience (or experiential) design. A user experience comprises a number of separate interfaces, human-to-agent contacts, transactions and conceptual models.

In product design - think iPods, KitchenAid or Playstation - this is known as the "out of the box experience", referring not only to the user's first and continued use of the product, but also to their initial opening of the box, unpacking the product and accessories, reading the instructions, and so on.

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