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The evolution of design principles

Human-centred design: focus on people

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It is no longer products that companies sell – but rather holistic services that are seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives. Or it is the outstanding user-friendliness that inspires appreciation, loyalty and recommendations from customers. With human-centred design, customer needs take centre stage. The ISO-certified design principle has many proponents both in the digital and the physical context – in this article, we compare it with other design approaches and reveal what this has to do with the pot plant in your office.

: Colleagues during a meeting: human-centred design involves continuously refining the concept on the basis of feedback.

Many meetings and consultations lead to the desired result: feedback loops involving customers play an important role in human-centred design. (Photo: Headway, unsplash)

The idea behind human-centred designpeople

Companies wishing to develop a product using the human-centred design approach will need to follow the rules of this design principle, which are certified in accordance with ISO standards . These are:

  • The main focus of the development process is on all the possible users of the respective product.
  • The process is iteratively structured and takes into consideration the experiences of user groups in numerous feedback loops.
  • Developers should consider the purpose for which a product is used, and by whom and in what context it is used – i.e. the entire user experience.
  • This experience refers not only to the usability of a product, but also to “soft factors” such as customer satisfaction.

Human-centred design compared with other design principles

“Form follows function” is a familiar maxim in design circles – the idea here is that the design of a product should allow you to immediately identify its function, and vice versa. Advocates of the Bauhaus movement in particular interpret the maxim as an instruction to forgo all decoration and “unnecessary” flourishes. From lamps to chairs: straight lines and functionality are the order of the day here.

In contrast, human-centred design puts the emphasis on the user, rather than the function. It’s all about understanding the context in which the product is used, what the requirements are and what solution best engages the user. Especially in the context of digital products, human-centred design is often equated with user-centred design – but there are small differences. While the former includes all the possible groups of people in the design process, the latter only takes the user into consideration. To give a real-world example: in the development of a food-delivery app, human-centred design would take all the parties involved into consideration – that is the customers, delivery drivers and the warehouse staff. User-centred design, in contrast, would concentrate exclusively on the customers, i.e. the users of the app.

Despite the differences highlighted above, it is difficult to directly compare human-centred design with other design principles. This is because human-centred design represents an evolutionary step in product development, rather than a separate movement. Whether in the context of designing a website or a service: the focus these days is on users and benefits, independently of individual design elements.

A desk covered with notes and draft documents: the six principles of human-centred design involve iterative processes.

Iterative processes are an integral part of human-centred design. (Photo: Amelie Mourichon, Unsplash)

What advantages does the human-centred design approach offer?

In a nutshell, the advantage is that physical and digital products can be intuitively used. The user doesn’t need a manual if their needs and application context were the focus during the development work. That, in turn, leads to high levels of satisfaction and trust in the brand, and possibly also to trust in future products. To give an example: an online furniture store that provides customers with comprehensive information about the desired product and leaves no questions unanswered with regard to the purchase, delivery or assembly of the item.

But are there any disadvantages? Isn’t it true that the reality of life is constantly changing – is it really possible to represent that accurately? And what about technical innovation? Isn’t it sometimes necessary to “force” users to change their habits in order to drive forward truly new approaches? Ultimately, the solution of a problem should be just as important as usability at this moment. All justified criticism that should feed into a holistic design process. Taking up this idea, “life-centred design” goes a step further and also incorporates questions of sustainability and fair production. Within life-centred design, these factors are considered to be just as important as the user perspective.

Application examples

Human-centred design is especially popular in the design of digital products – after all, when using an app, an online service or a website, it’s immediately clear if customer needs were not the primary focus during the design phase. In such cases, you needn’t wait long for the negative feedback to start flowing in! But you will also never go wrong with human-centred design when developing physical products and spaces.

Be it a chair that can only be set to a comfortable reclining position through strenuous pulling and lifting, or a seat that looks great but that is uncomfortably small: both products might technically fulfil their purpose, but the designs do not take the user’s needs into consideration. Office spaces are another great example. Many offices are not designed in a way that promises the user a positive experience. Rather than providing indoor plants, quiet zones and informal cosy corners set apart from meeting rooms, many companies are opting to stick with soulless open-plan offices. Take a look around yourself – you’re sure to notice numerous examples from the fields of architecture, interior design or product design that are either clearly aligned with, or break all the principles of, human-centred design.

Even more fascinating topics relating to design and the future of the furnishing industry await you at the imm cologne Spring Edition from 4 to 7 June 2023 – book your trade fair stand today!