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User-Centered Design Principles

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

This article discusses design and introduces you to the fundamental principles of user-centered design. You will find that designing computer systems share some characteristics with all design activities. However, It differs in other respects. In particular, there is a wide range of factors to be considered in the design of human-computer systems. Accordingly, a variety of development methods and representations of the proposed system are required.

In order to develop any product, two significant activities have to be undertaken: the designer must understand the requirements of the product and must develop the product. Understanding the requirements involves looking at similar products, discussing the needs of the people who will use the product, and analyzing any existing systems to discover the problems with current designs.

Without this understanding, there is almost no chance of creating a product people will love. “People ignore design that ignores people” is a famous quote by Frank Chimero. And this quote perfectly summarizes the importance of user-centered design. UCD is about gaining a deep understanding of who will be using the product. Employing UCD to a system design results in a product that delivers a more efficient, satisfying, and user-friendly experience for the user; thus, leading to increased sales and customer loyalty.

The Process

In order to achieve a deep understanding of user needs, designers apply a mixture of methods, investigative (e.g., surveys and interviews) and generative ones (e.g., brainstorming). That is why UCD is an iterative process, and each iteration involves four distinct phases:

  • Understand the context of use

  • Specify user requirements

  • Design solutions

  • Evaluate against requirements

In UCD, projects are based upon an explicit understanding of the users, tasks, and their environments. The goal of the process is to deliver the whole user experience. Therefore, design teams usually include professionals from across multiple disciplines (e.g., ethnographers, psychologists, software and hardware engineers), as well as domain experts, stakeholders, and the users themselves. Experts may carry out evaluations of the produced designs, using design guidelines and criteria. However, you should bear two crucial points in mind. First, to span the entire user experience, you must involve the users for evaluation. Second, you'll need to ensure long-term monitoring of use.

Being human-centred is an additional cost to any project, so businesses rightly ask whether taking so much time to talk to people, produce prototype designs and so on is worthwhile. The answer is a fundamental ‘yes’.” — David Benyon, Professor with over 25 years of experience in the field of HCI

David Benyon distinguishes four ways in which UCD pays off:

  • With close user involvement, products are more likely to meet users’ expectations and requirements. This leads to increased sales and lower costs incurred by customer services.

  • Systems designers tailor products for people in specific contexts and with specific tasks, thereby reducing the chances of situations with a high risk of human error arising. UCD leads to safer products.

  • Putting designers in close contact with users means a deeper sense of empathy emerges. This is essential in creating ethical designs that respect privacy and the quality of life.

  • By focusing on all users of a product, designers can recognize the diversity of cultures and human values through UCD – a step in the right direction towards creating sustainable businesses.

5 Key principles of User-Centered Design

I’ve outlined below 5 key principles for the design of usable systems.

1) Design for the users and support their goals

During development, it is important for the developer to consider the characteristics of the user, their needs, and their environment.

2) Make your UI easy to learn and enjoyable to use

Users like to concentrate on the task at hand and worry less or not at all about the tool in use and its interaction with the designed application. Too much effort invested in learning on the operation part makes them less efficient and prone to errors.

3) Maintain consistency

The users need a system that is easy to learn with minimal and understandable requirements. The behavior of interface elements should be consistent.

4) Provide adequate feedback and navigation

Users need assurance that their actions have been successfully executed. This can be made evident by a change in the appearance when completion is achieved successfully. If it takes longer, an indicator is useful to show that processing is still in progress, and this keeps the confidence of a user in shape.

5) Present information clearly

The arrangement of information is essential to the user while on-screen which enables the user to single out the different elements and data groups. This can be achieved by using boxes, spaces, and visual coding proficiency.


To maximize usability, you can employ iterative design, which gradually enhances the design through assessment from the early design stages. These steps enable you to incorporate feedback from the user and client until the system attains an ideal usability level. Some of the methods to determine the primary users, how they work, and what duties they should accomplish, include user testing on system prototypes, a usability audit performed by specialists, and cognitive modeling.

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