Human-Centered Design Principles 2022
So you want to know more about human-centered design principles. Maybe you’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of leadership to promote human-centered design principles and processes throughout your organization and need to plan the thesis of your campaign, or maybe you’ve been leading and practicing human-centered design for ages and are reviewing the community’s latest take on human-centered design principles. In either case, this is for you.
The design and innovation process, including new product development, inevitably involves complex forces and variables at work. Even a development team with the best intentions to create a product that makes people’s lives better is still susceptible to getting lost in the weeds of business pressures, timelines, budgets, internal squabbles, and everything else BUT the needs of their real users, customers, and stakeholders.
Design that Focuses on Humans
Human-centered design was conceived on the understanding that despite all these complications in the product development process, humans and businesses thrive most when product manufacturers put their human stakeholders at the center of their operations, understanding their spoken needs and wants, observing their lifestyles and latent longings, and involving real potential users at all decision points throughout the product development process.
Since the term was coined and its practice became widely adopted, its ethos has expanded with the understanding that not only do human users of products and the businesses selling them thrive because of a right execution of human-centered design principles, but whole communities, systems, and economies will also experience beneficial impact. In short, human-centered design has evolved from an initially narrow but honest goal of putting the human at the center (including all human stakeholders that will directly interact with the product throughout all its life) to also embracing the larger context and impact of the product on overall human wellbeing, as manifested in healthy communities, societies, and even natural ecosystems.
When products succeed in eliciting a strong emotional response from users, help improve users’ lives, do not cause detrimental effects in the long-term, even improve the user as a person, and help them realize their self-actualization goals, they will inevitably lead to growth and profitability for the business, and benefit to the overall community
But what actually are the most widely agreed-upon human-centered design principles, and how do you execute human-centered design?
In short, human-centered design has evolved from an initially narrow but honest goal of putting the human at the center (including all human stakeholders that will directly interact with the product throughout all its life) to embracing the larger context and impact of the product on human wellbeing, manifested in healthy communities, societies, and ecosystems.
Scientific Research and Understanding of Humans: Human-Centered Design Research
First, since human-centered design requires a deep understanding of all humans involved in your product’s manufacturing process, context of use, and end of life / recycling, the process must start with robust design research to extract relevant information and synthesize insights from those stakeholders. Research is also imperative to make sure that you’re uncovering the root issues at play in the problem you’re trying to solve, so that you’re not simply solving a symptom of a deeper challenge. This should be executed by trained researchers and moderators who understand how to extract authentic reactions and emotions from users without bias and represent them accurately to the rest of your development team, along with clever, shrewd, wise, expert, informed, correct recommendations to guide the next steps in development. It should also be guided by a strong understanding of human behavior in general and the psychological, cultural, and emotional principles underlying that behavior. Read more on the basic purpose, process, and practical tools of good design research here.
Testing and Validating with Real Users
A natural outpouring of the last two principles is also using scientific and design research methodology to test and validate design concepts and prototypes in as-close-to real life scenarios as possible with the relevant stakeholders, for example: “Primary research – such as quantitative concept testing surveys – provides more statistical reassurance about which design direction will best meet stakeholder needs.” 
Considering Product Viability: Social & Environmental
An aspect of human-centered design that is very much at the forefront right now is building in accountability for if a product is viable through the lenses of environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability. Without putting thoughtful consideration into the long-term consequences, ripple effects, and end-of-life impacts of a “human-centered” product today, it can hardly hope to maintain that claim years later if it is in fact harming the ecosystems that help us and future generations thrive.
Finding a human need that hasn’t been met or hasn’t been met well
While planned obsolescence should have no place in the future economy, the same shouldn’t be said for differentiation. Some may criticize the principle of product or market differentiation for encouraging over-consumption of mere novelties or propagating a spirit of materialism where people feel compelled to accumulate multiple similar products because one aspect of each product’s function is different than the others, even though they may overlap in most other aspects of their function. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water though.
Differentiation should be understood as a human-centered design principle because when applied correctly, it ensures that a product is fulfilling a real need for humans that hasn’t already been solved by existing products. Therefore, by making sure your products are differentiated, you lessen the risk of putting a redundant product on the market that just uses up precious resources, materials, and energy, only to sit on a shelf right beside a similar product that already solves the same problem for users. It also encourages companies to be creative and look for ways to solve more human problems, rather than just solving the same problems over and over again. When differentiation is executed well, the breadth of human pain points addressed by quality products, experiences, and systems should expand, improving our overall quality of life. Differentiation also increases your profitability by starting with a powerful value proposition that attracts buyers much more passively, while avoiding competition with similar products and the price point battles that ensue.
Product & Business Alignment to Focus on Humans
Ensuring the product is optimally aligned with business needs and function to support an ideal experience in every touchpoint with product and manufacturer.
While not touted as an integral principle of human-centered design as much as it should be, it is important to realize and own the influence that your overall business model and operations has on the experience of your human stakeholders, and broader communities. For example, as you’re designing a product itself, you should be thinking about how that product will fit into your existing business models, supply chains, and manufacturing methods, but on top of that, you must have foresight to how your product will be complimented by subscription and customer services, maintenance or repair services, tech support, buy-back, and other parts of your supporting business functions that will affect the performance of your product and your stakeholders’ experiences, as well as the footprint these operations make on the communities in which you’re active. A wholistic consideration of this product-business relationship and its implications ensures that both your product and business deliver an excellent experience across the product journey, leaving opportunity for the ball to be dropped and leave a stakeholder in the lurch, while also making the product journey sustainable and profitable for you to service as a company. A failure on either side of this equation will result in an unsustainable and potentially troublesome product.
What’s the difference between Human-Centered Design and User-Centered design or Customer-centered design?
Human-centered Design focuses on the whole human, meaning it doesn’t only consider their needs and preferences as it relates to one product or service. Instead, human-centered design aims to understand a certain human or group of humans as fully as possible and allow product concepts to flow from that understanding. Human-centered design includes understanding aspects just as lifestyle, aspirations, latent needs, emotional, psychological, and behavioral tendencies and more.
User-centered or customer-centered design is a narrower lens that considers the human within the context of their role as a user of a product or services, or a customer of a product or service. Therefore, this process may rely more heavily on tangible ways user interact with a product or platform, observational research, their purchasing habits and processes, ergonomics etc.
Check out this article on what you need to know about industrial design in business for some quick definitions on human-centered design, design thinking, and other common terms in the innovation world, as well as what role they play in innovation operations.
How do I help my team learn to implement and practice a human-centered design approach?
This we can help with! We’ve guided clients of all shapes and sizes across New Mobility, Consumer, and Commercial markets through the human-centered design process, both on tactical product development projects and long-term innovation strategy projects. A huge part of our value to clients is how we help teach and train your internal team on how to navigate and repeat the innovation and design process. Reach out to us today to start a conversation about how we can help you make human-centered design and innovation a stronger part of your culture!
Human-Centered Design Principles 2022
Lynnaea Haggard, Marketing Manager, has a natural passion for storytelling and building relationships. She started her college education in Journalism, but soon found her passion in switching and completing her degree in Industrial Design. Now she uses her industrial design skills and enthusiasm for communication to support studio projects as well as design and develop Sundberg-Ferar’s marketing and communications materials. In her spare time, she is a freelance musician, reads, does anything outdoors, and works with her husband on updating their 1924 Detroit home.