User-centered design

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“In broad terms, user-centered design (UCD) is a design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of the end user of an interface or document are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. User-centered design can be characterized as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyze and foresee how users are likely to use an interface, but to test the validity of their assumptions with regards to user behaviour in real world tests with actual users.” ( Wikipedia)

Carr (1997) also makes the distinction between user-design and user-centered design: “In the former, users are engaged in the actual creation of their own systems in negotiation with leaders and designers. In the latter, users are considered central to the design specifications; however, design control remains firmly in the hands of professional designers and approval power remains with leadership”. We are not sure that every UCD theorist or practicioner can identifiy with this distinction

The W3C Notes on User Centered Design Process (UCD) summarize UCD principles from Jeffrey Rubin (1984):

  1. Early focus on users and tasks
    • Structured and systematic information gathering (consistent across the board)
    • Designers trained by experts before conducting data collection sessions
  2. Empirical Measurement and testing of product usage
    • Focus on ease of learning and ease of use
    • Testing of prototypes with actual users
  3. Iterative Design
    • Product designed, modified and tested repeatedly.
    • Allow for the complete overhaul and rethinking of design by early testing of conceptual models and design ideas.

The same W3C also outlines a typical user-centered design process.

According to David Travis, in [ISO 13407 is dead. Long live ISO 9241-210! (June 2011, retrived June 6 2011), ISO 9241-210 (formerly ISO 13407) defines 6 key principles for user centred design:

  • The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.
  • Users are involved throughout design and development.
  • The design is driven and refined by user-centred evaluation.
  • The process is iterative.
  • The design addresses the whole user experience.
  • The design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives.

See also:

Types of user-centered design methodologies

Design methodologies have been developed in various contexts and can be sometimes combined. Carr (1997) identifies three methods that can help designers get a sense of how involve users in the creation of new systems of learning: ethnographic field methods, cooperative design and action research-based user-design.

Here is a provisional list of popular design approaches:


  • Fluid Project Wiki includes a Design Handbook that is “is a How-to Guide filled with user-centered design (UCD) techniques you can use to learn from your users and design better user experiences. The handbook includes information on a variety of UCD practices, from performing user research and creating models (such as personas and scenarios) to inform the design process, to performing UX walkthroughs and user testing of your website or application to assess usability and accessibility.”


  • Carr,Alison, User-design in the creation of human learning systems, Educational Technology Research and Development, 45, 3, 9/18/1997, Page 5, DOI 10.1007/BF02299726 (This is an article DSchneider recommends, e.g. there is a list of user-design decision guiding questions).
  • ISO 9241-210, Ergonomics of human-system interaction -- Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems, (you can buy it for 124 CHF ...)