One of the first questions that we ask ourselves when designing a new product or a new feature is to figure out who will use it. Having done that, the next crucial step is to try to gain a deeper understanding of how people will use and interact with that product.
We believe that good software design boils down to a fundamental understanding of these two factors. “The function of good software is to make the complex appear to be simple,” says Grady Booch, the man who developed UML (Unified Modeling Language).
It’s a famous quote that perfectly describes our end goal when designing new software. Adopting user-centered design principles in our approach goes a long way in helping us create software that people will like and use.
In this article, we’re going to discuss what user-centered design is, and why it matters.
What is User-Centered Design?
As the name suggests, user-centered design refers to a design philosophy where designers begin by carefully evaluating the needs of the product users, and what they wish to achieve. Having done this, they then take their feedback onboard before heading to the drawing board.
User-centered design is an iterative process that requires close collaboration between the users and the designers. The software, product, or site often undergoes several changes based on user feedback.
The 4 Different Phases of User-Centered Design
While the number of phases may vary depending upon the product in question, there are primarily four phases involved in the user-centered design process.
1. Identifying the Context
This is the first stage, where designers figure out the context in which people will use a system. This involves identifying their primary users, their main purpose of use, and the different situations or conditions in which they’ll use the product.
Our UX designers start by developing a buyer persona, which would be our typical user. Buyer personas help us break down the kind of user that we want to target. It gives us a better understanding of their behavior, their needs, and how they may use the product.
Creating a Buyer Persona
There are a few simple steps that you can take to create a buyer persona for your business:
- Identify similarities and trends in your contacts database to know the types of customers you work with
- You can also request feedback from your sales staff to identify any broad similarities in the user demographic that most frequently uses your services or products.
- Send out a survey or use a lead magnet to gain information from prospects.
Once you have the data, you can then use it to identify any common patterns or trends. This can give you important insights into your core user demographic and help you develop a detailed buyer persona.
This is an important part of user-centered design. Without a fundamental understanding of how people may use your product, you won’t be able to add in the right features. Knowing how people may interact with your product is critical when developing a solution.
2. Identifying Requirements
This is an important stage where the company identifies any specific user goals or business requirements that the product must meet to be considered successful.
In the first phase, we develop a clear understanding of who will use the product. Now, the next step is to determine how they will use it. For this, you need to develop a clear value proposition for your product.
What problem does it solve? Many people use software to simplify basic processes. Therefore, when identifying the requirements of your end user, it’s important to start working in reverse order.
Begin by identifying the problem that your product intends to solve. Then, start working backwards, explaining how your product will solve it. You can gain deeper insights into usability by understanding key points about your users, such as the device they prefer using, or the most common situation in which they may use your product.
For instance, Atarim was designed for agency owners, freelancers, and web developers who need a centralized hub for managing their web development projects and for managing teams.
We know that a large chunk of our user base prefers the desktop experience, which is why we have poured our resources into making Atarim a complete web agency management platform.
3. The Design Phase
This is the stage where the design team gets to work and comes up with different solutions. It is common (and recommended) that various solutions are put forth at this stage and can include wireframes, mockups, user journeys, or tests for UI elements.
The information that you gather in the first two stages can now be put to use in the design phase. During the design phase, it is important for UX designers to visualize the user journey and understand how they’ll interact with the product.
A common way of doing that is to map user journeys. For instance, when designing Atarim, we realized that effective communication was a serious challenge for most agency owners.
Clients would send them emails with (often) vague instructions, expecting them to piece together the information and deliver. This created friction and prolonged the design process needlessly.
We went about solving this problem by allowing clients to leave comments on their website screenshots, improving communication and reducing back-and-forth between clients and designers.
Another way is to create storyboards to explain different scenarios about how users may interact with a product. This can include images showing people using the product in specific situations.
Storyboarding uses visual panels to break down each scenario, giving you a clear picture of how people may use the product and the purpose it fulfills for them.
4. The Evaluation Stage
This is the final stage, where the designs are carefully evaluated and tested, and then one is selected for use.
A key component of user-centered design is to validate just how users are interacting with a product. In many cases, people may develop an entirely different use for a particular feature or product – one which may cause you to rethink your strategy.
To understand and observe just how users interact with your product, it’s important to conduct surveys or interviews. It’s also equally important to monitor product usage and adjust your design accordingly.
One of the best examples of this is Amazon. The UX that the eCommerce giant has developed was a result of extensive user testing. For instance, the search bar is prominently displayed on every single page, with a range of filters that you can use to easily customize and find the product you’re looking for.
Amazingly, the UX has changed surprisingly little, especially considering just how far the company has come. That’s because the company understands that a major design shift could affect their repeat purchase ratio and may cause them to lose buyers.
Instead of relying on personal design opinions from its design team, the company looks at how people interact with their products. They gather millions of data points and use those to introduce incremental improvements over time.
Why User-Centered Design Matters
There are a number of reasons why user-centered design is becoming increasingly important in this day and age. Here are a few.
When designers work closely with product users, they are able to come up with products that are well-received. People can use these products more intuitively, and designers won’t have to worry about making as many changes post-launch.
This reduces costs, and the risks, associated with the original investment.
The Whole User Experience is Evaluated
The user-centered design revolves around gaining a comprehensive understanding of the product users, the conditions, and the product’s functionality. As a result, designers are able to capture every aspect of the user experience.
This means that your team will take every aspect into account when designing the product, which could result in new features being added.
Because user-centered design focuses on collaboration with designers and users, the end product is far superior. It takes into account feedback from users, and the product often goes through several iterations before being released.
A Collaborative Effort
In most situations, user-centered design requires all team members to work with each other. This often results in the creation of a multidisciplinary team of professionals who combine to create more useful products.
This helps build synergy between team members and improves productivity and collaboration across the board.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
And perhaps the most important reason of all why user-centered design is so important is that it greatly improves customer satisfaction. When companies design anything while keeping their end-users in mind, the result is a product that people can use intuitively and easily, which ultimately translates into higher sales.
User-Centered Design Plays an Important Role in UX and Web Design
When we created Atarim, our primary objective was to solve the challenges that we had faced during the early days of WP Feedback. We gathered tons of data from our users, which offered us a deeper insight into their problems in managing their agencies.
Every little feature was painstakingly tested and refined over time. Good product design isn’t a result of a eureka moment, but it’s a long journey of careful planning, review, and observation. It’s the approach we take when working on any feature for Atarim. The core principles of user-centered design were popularized in User-Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction, written by Donald Norman and released in 1986. There are some excellent notes available on user-centered design at Web Accessibility Initiative too.