User-Centred Design, Human Centred Design, what's the difference? | NTT DATA

Fri, 07 February 2020

User-Centred Design, Human Centred Design, what's the difference?

These two terms are heard more and more in meetings, proposals, articles, pub conversations and at all levels. They are starting to be thrown around like UX and UI were some years ago and there seems to be sometimes a lack of understanding. I recently heard someone (at a CXO level) mention it in a meeting, but it was out of context and it showed to me (as a UX professional), that he really did not understand the term. Our team had designed something which had not taken the users fully into account. We still had to validate the designs and test with users in order to iterate. Luckily for him though, everyone else around the table was impressed with his comment! So are these terms just new buzz words to show off your knowledge (or pretend to) or are they really valuable terms in today's product/service design approach? First, lets explain what the two terms mean:

User-Centred Design (UCD): User-centred design is an iterative design process in which designers focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process. The design teams involve users throughout the design process using a variety of research and design techniques, to create highly usable and accessible products for them. (Sounds great, right?)

Human-Centred Design (HCD): Human-centred design is an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge, and techniques. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human well-being, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance [ISO 9241-21-:2020(E)]. (Sounds the same to me as UCD) Aaarrrgh!

So what is the difference? They sound exactly the same! The difference is subtle but becomes clearer when you start to dig a little deeper into the difference between 'user' and 'human'. I think the simplest way to separate these is to think of UCD as a subset of HCD. When we think about human characteristics in everything we design, we think of all the psychological, physiological, social and other characteristics which will affect any human being when interacting with the design, whether it is a mobile application or a chair! We think about the general natural characteristics of human psychology and perception.

Next, with UCD, we need to go one step further and think of the actual user we are speaking to. We focus on the desired target audience of our design. To continue with the chair analogy we are designing. As product designers we know that a chair should be balanced, sturdy and with some added comfort, so that any human can sit in it. This is HCD. Then if the chair will have a user sitting in it for more than 4-6 hours at a single time, we need to go deeper into the UCD and think how this specific user needs more comfort and support for this prolonged time. UCD also can be more focused on testing as much as possible with users whenever possible, at a prototyping stage in high-fidelity and low-fidelity design stages. It is at this stage that we are refining our results to fir the target user group and their feedback is imperative to the success. Be aware though, that if you design with a UCD approach you must include also the HCD approach. Simply as your design may extend outside your target audience!

To conclude, I hope you can see the difference and add these terms to our 'buzz word' dictionary, and use them, at the right times of course. Hopefully you use them only for the reason that you want to encourage that any design should be user focused, and not the brain child of a lone ranger!!!

There are many more design terms but they all mostly fall under HCD/UCD: Lean Design, Agile UX, UX Design, Service Design, Design Thinking, Creative Thinking, Experience Design, etc. These are for another day!Get in touch to know more about NTT DATA UK approach to UCD.

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