Mastering User-Centered Design, with 5 Advanced Tips

May 6, 2024

User-centered design (UCD) processes prioritize meeting the needs and preferences of actual users. UCD is grounded in the belief that the most effective designs address the needs, preferences, and limitations of those using a product or Web site.

In this article, I’ll highlight the following:

  • goals of UCD and their importance to the design process
  • benefits and challenges of UCD
  • five advanced tips for practicing UCD
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Goals of User-Centered Design

We should measure a design’s success by how well it satisfies user requirements and achieves UCD goals, not just by its aesthetics. UCD is a crucial part of the design process for the following reasons:

  • UCD enhances user satisfaction. By focusing on users, UCD ensures that the final product is not only functional but also enjoyable and easy to use, leading to greater user satisfaction and loyalty.
  • UCD improves usability. Because UCD involves methods such as usability testing and user feedback, the result is a more accessible product that is easier to use. Through continuous testing and iterative design, UCD identifies and delivers better design solutions.
  • UCD reduces costs. By identifying usability problems early, when they are cheaper to fix, and thus minimizing the need for major revisions after launch, UCD reduces development costs.
  • UCD increases accessibility. Because UCD considers a diverse range of users, including those with disabilities, a product’s inclusivity makes it usable by a wider audience.
  • UCD drives innovation. By better understanding the user’s needs and challenges, designers can develop innovative solutions for them that might not have been obvious without the users’ involvement.

Benefits of User-Centered Design

UCD is a transformative approach to the design of products and Web sites that is based on findings from user research rather than assumptions and thus delivers the following benefits:

  • increasing sales—A better user experience leads to brand loyalty and more sales because of word-of-mouth marketing. When users enjoy using a product, they’ll tell their friends about it.
  • reducing human error—A design that results from a deep understanding of users’ needs reduces the likelihood of user errors because you’ll catch the issues that would trip people up during the design process.
  • more inclusive products—Inclusivity isn’t just a matter of social responsibility; it broadens a product’s market reach by enabling it to cater to a broader demographic.
  • fostering designer empathy—Involving users gives design teams a firsthand understanding of their challenges. Designing with real users in mind enables you to create designs that genuinely resonate with users’ needs.
  • understanding users’ painpoints and requirements—By gathering feedback directly from actual users, designers can gain clear insights into what users need, prefer, and struggle with.

Challenges of UCD

UCD is a rewarding process, but is not without its challenges. Some challenges of UCD include the following:

  • creating a viable, profitable product—UCD is an iterative design process during which designers continually refine their design solutions based on feedback from target users. A product might need to undergo multiple rounds of iterative design before it can effectively meet users’ needs. Iterative design can also be time-consuming and costly. So UX designers must be prepared for extended design and development phases and allocate sufficient resources to meet business and user requirements.
  • creating technically feasible designs—While user feedback can provide valuable insights into what would make a product more user friendly, not all suggestions would be technically feasible or financially practical. Finding a middle ground where you can meet users’ needs without compromising technical feasibility or financial viability requires carefully evaluating priorities, as well as creative problem-solving.
  • building a product that is sustainable over time—A sustainable UCD approach requires creating a design that is flexible, adaptable, and capable of evolving. This is particularly challenging in industries where both users’ preferences and technologies evolve quickly. Designers must create solutions that aren’t effective just in the short term but can also stand the test of time, ensuring that the product remains relevant and user centered over the long term.

5 Advanced UCD Tips

Now, let’s consider some advanced tips that can help you master UCD, enabling you to create more effective, easier to learn and use, and inclusive products, applications, and Web sites.

1. Consider All User Types

You should consider different types of users, each with unique needs and experiences, throughout the design process.

Creating a customer data platform (CDP) a great way to collect user data and understand how users interact with a Web site. Analyzing this data can help you to optimize the customer journey and drive users toward the desired actions that the business wants them to take.

First-Time Users

First-time users require more guidance and better design to navigate a product effectively because they are unfamiliar with conventions and functionalities that might seem obvious to power users. Prioritize answering consumers’ questions rather than overwhelming them with data.

A user-friendly survey that helps new users reach their goals can be very helpful. For example, as shown in Figure 1, the cat-insurance company Pumpkin Care does exactly this to great effect.

Figure 1—Pumpkin gathers information about a customer’s cat
Pumpkin gathers information about a customer's cat

Image source: Pumpkin

Repeat Users

These users have specific expectations that are based on their past experiences. Therefore, efficiency and consistency are key. Repeat users appreciate shortcuts, more advanced features, and a product that remembers their preferences and adapts to their usage patterns. The challenge here is to maintain familiarity while introducing updates and improvements.

Super or Power Users

This user group has advanced knowledge and is skilled in using the product. Power users typically want more sophisticated features, customization options, and faster ways of achieving their goals. These users often provide detailed, highly valuable feedback, so catering to their needs can lead to innovative new capabilities.

2. Use Visual Reinforcement

Visual reinforcement enhances the user experience by guiding users’ attention and thus simplifying navigation. UX designers can create an easy-to-use and engaging user interface by applying visual-design principles such as visual hierarchy, contrast, and whitespace. Crafting user-centered design narratives takes on ‌heightened significance, particularly when you’re targeting niche markets.

The user-centric design of StudioSuits—a brand that is renowned for specializing in tweed jackets for men—puts every user’s needs at the forefront. The Web site openly communicates their commitment to handcrafting custom garments using the finest fabrics and offers extensive customization options. Relevant sections of their home page convey details about how their products provide value to users, as shown in Figure 2. Their Web site empowers users, granting them greater control over their purchases and enhancing their overall experience.

Figure 2—The StudioSuits Web site
The StudioSuits Web site

Image source: StudioSuits

The large, strong fonts the site uses for headings denote their significance, while it uses smaller, subtler text for body content. This visual hierarchy helps users quickly understand the structure and flow of content, making it easier to find what they want.

3. Aim for Maximal Accessibility

Prioritizing inclusivity and accessibility means designing products that people with varied abilities can easily use, including those with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments. Some common accessible design practices include the following:

  • Providing alt text for images. This is a crucial design practice that enables screen readers to describe images to visually impaired users.
  • Avoiding motion effects. Some users, particularly those with vestibular disorders, are sensitive to motion and can experience discomfort or nausea from animations or parallax effects. Therefore, another good practice is to avoid the use of motion effects or provide users with the option of disabling them.
  • Employing inclusive language. The use of language that conforms to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) standards ensures that all users feel welcome and respected. DEI standards call for avoiding stereotypes, using gender-neutral language, and being mindful of people’s cultural sensitivities.
  • Implementing accessibility requirements. During your testing phase, it is crucial that you incorporate a range of accessibility requirements such as those of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These standards provide a framework for creating accessible designs for all users, including those with disabilities.

Hims & Hers, the telehealth brand that is shown in Figure 3, employs accessible UCD effectively on its Web site, significantly impacting lead conversions and users’ trust. The company focuses on providing educational resources that cover various health issues, including information about available treatments for ED (erectile dysfunction), hair loss, and mental health, thus empowering users to make informed health decisions. Plus, they offer personalized treatment plans that are based on online assessments and tailor their recommendations to individual needs.

Figure 3—The Hims & Hers Web site
The Hims & Hers Web site

Image source: Hims & Hers

The Hims & Hers Web-site design is responsive, so their desktop site functions differently from their mobile site.

4. Use UCD Tools to Gather Feedback on Every Design Iteration

Implementing tools such as surveys and conducting usability-test sessions facilitates the regular gathering of user feedback, which is important because it provides direct insights into how users interact with a product, what they find beneficial, where they face challenges, and how they address those challenges. Thus, an iterative feedback process leads to a cycle of continuous improvement.

Clean Origin, whose site is shown in Figure 4, is an excellent example of a company that considers the user’s perspective deeply and provides easy-to-use navigation, transparency, and customization options.

Figure 4—Clean Origin’s Web site
Clean Origin's Web site

Image source: Clean Origin

Their exemplary online platform’s easy-to-navigate Web site and commitment to open information about the pros and cons of lab-grown diamonds, as Figure 5 shows, enhance the user experience and build trust.

Figure 5—Open information about lab-grown diamonds
Open information about lab-grown diamonds

Image source: Clean Origin

The dynamic of the product owner versus that of the product manager is also important. The product owner represents the user, ensuring that the design narrative resonates with the target audience. The product manager takes a broader view, with the goal of aligning the design strategy with the company’s overall goals and vision. This interplay is essential to crafting design narratives that not only captivate the audience but also drive business success.

5. Never Stop Conducting Usability Testing

Continuous testing ensures that a product remains relevant, is efficient, and meets users’ goals, even as external conditions change. Before a product’s launch, testing helps you identify and remedy usability issues, ensuring that a product meets the ideal user’s expectations.

Post-launch testing is equally important because it can provide insights into how real-world use differs from that which occurs in a controlled testing environment. This testing can uncover new challenges and opportunities for enhancement that weren’t previously apparent. A robust feedback loop can provide a goldmine of information, offering direct insights into users’ satisfaction, painpoints, and unmet needs.

Wrapping Up

Understanding and prioritizing users’ needs by taking a user-centered design approach results in more user-friendly Web sites and products. To make UCD a success, UX designers must collaborate with users. UCD helps you to achieve your business goals while ensuring that you create a product that is based on users’ needs and preferences. UCD is truly human-centered design. 

Digital PR at uSERP and Content Management at Wordable

Mexico City, Mexico

Guillaume DeschampsGuillaume is a performance-driven marketing professional who is skilled in creating marketing plans and leading successful teams in product launches, promotions, and development. He is well-versed in search-engine optimization (SEO), content creation, social-media audience engagement, and brand management. Guillaume is currently focused on handling content management at Wordable and digital PR at uSERP. He holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a Master’s in Digital Marketing, Communications, and Event Production. Outside of work, he enjoys his expat life in sunny Mexico, reading books, wandering, and catching the latest shows on TV.  Read More

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