Human-centered Design vs. User-centered Design: What are the Key Differences?




Design is driven by design thinking that focuses on solving problems via user interaction. The term “user,” as you know, refers to people or audiences who approach a digital platform. Like the other terms like clicks, visitors, traffic, likes, etc., it’s a core part of the terminology of the design process. But these terms sometimes drive the design process to sway away from the core of designing: Designing for “humans.” Since the term “users” leaves an impression of being a commodity to the person at the other end of digital products, so yes, a lot is in the name!


Indeed the modern design process of apps or websites has high regard for design interaction for advanced user engagement. It’s because visuals impact people instantly and may dazzle up their impressions! That’s why user-centered design manifests and employs psychological principles to deliver an outstanding user experience. However, in the pursuit of an excellent user experience, designers cannot afford to neglect basic but dominating design principles prioritized by the human-centric design approach, i.e., to generate usability and accessibility of digital products for humans. And right there is the fundamental difference between user-centered design and human-centered design!


Both human-centered design and user-centered design play a central role in app or website development. Though they may seem overlapping at times, some subtle differences between them are pretty clear. Stay tuned till we break ‘em for you!


What’s Human-centered design?


Human-centered design is a principle of the design process that strives for human or people-oriented solutions for issues vital from a human perspective. It measures the usability of a digital product from an essential human perspective and produces context-driven solutions. Human-centered design views and comprehends digital products from the lens of human understanding. Thus, it has a broader approach imperative to most design approaches.


What’s User-centered design?


We can call the user-centered design a part of human-centered design. A designer first creates a design for a human and then for a user. Once all the elements that generate a human-centered design have been set well, pleasing that person to stay on the app or website comes next. And that’s what user-centered design is all about! It aims at user satisfaction and seamless user interaction by enhancing the accessibility and user-friendliness of the design.



Key Differences Between Human-Centered and User-Centered Design


  • Human-centered design has a broader scope than user-centered design. The human-centered design principle rules the design decisions to generate the basic usability and accessibility of the design interface. On the other hand, the user-centered design keeps the spotlight on user experience. It employs psychological principles to boost the desirability of digital products.


  • Human-centered design mainly focuses on solving context-based design problems by formulating appropriate strategies. In contrast, user-centered design concentrates on the user-friendliness of the overall design.


  • While human-centered design emphasizes the design being more and more empathetic towards people, the user-centered design focuses on facilitating user engagement and expanding the product outcome.


  • The human-centered fosters the growth of a sustainable relationship between the person and the digital product. As it’s all about creating an efficient and empathetic human-centered design, it is largely influenced by the “why” aspect of creating a product for people. At the same time, user-centered design tends to navigate the user journey in order to remove possible roadblocks. That way, it focuses on the “how” aspect of the design.


  • The human-centered design is generic and comprehends the general purpose of the digital product in different contexts. User-centered design, on the contrary, deals with the specific details of the product. As the user-centered design navigates the entire journey of users, it considers the psychological principles regarding the particular user issues for the digital product.


  • The appropriate human-centered design principles can make people feel welcomed on an app or website. Its special regard for empathetic design interfaces broadens the user base in this way. While the human-centered design tends to make the product likable or usable, the user-centered design makes it efficient. As the user-centered design principles generate efficiency, they help retain the user base. For instance, while human-centered design creates user personas, the user-centered design enables the users to use these personas for their purpose on the app or website.


Methodology of Human-centered design process and user-centered design


Human-centered design


  • Empathy or knowing users- When you design, you should know whom you are designing for. The human-centered design drives the design process to develop personas, take feedbacks, interviews, etc., to know the people and cater to their needs.


  • Targeting problems- As discussed earlier, human-centered design is contextual and focuses on the “why” of design problems. It digs deep to understand the crux of the problem and its proper solution.


  • Brainstorming ideas- At this point of the human-centered design approach, thinking is the most powerful tool. Whether a team member or someone simply filling a survey, it’s the phase where ideas from anywhere can sync.


  • Prototyping- This stage is where designers try to develop viable designs for testing and gathering feedback. Here, they don’t have to score the perfect design but go through trial and error to be there.


  • Check and iterate design- Testing and iteration pave the way for a meaningful design that makes sense to the underlying idea of the product. It enables the designer to learn what works and what doesn’t. In the end, designers end up in a win-win situation where their design becomes a hit for them and efficient for the users.


User-centered design


  • User research- To target users and their needs, the first step for user-centered design is to conduct user research. Surveys, personas, and user scenarios allow designers to learn how users interact with the interface.


  • Boost user priorities- Once designers understand user needs through research, the second step is to employ that knowledge to boost user priorities.


  • Focus on responsive design- User satisfaction being the aim for user-centered design befalls on it the responsibility to create a responsive design. The responsiveness of design is critical for both designers and users as it directly impacts the usability of the product.


  • Wireframing and prototyping- To visualize and prioritize the content of each screen is the next step for user-centered design. Till the designers finally ace the perfect design, they should keep prototyping for the best features.

  • User feedback- What users like, and dislike helps designers adapt and evolve the design. Thus, regular feedback and upgrade is the final step of user-centered design.


The Bottom Line


If we consider design as a cake, human-centered design principles can be called the base layer, while user-centered design principles are like the icing or decoration on the top!


Human-centered design is an inevitable part of the design process as it deeply considers the emotional and empathetic aspects of human nature. Any design that misses out on these factors may sooner or later become undesirable. User-centered design, on the contrary, targets tangible physiological and psychological aspects to pave the way for seamless user interaction. While the user-centered design is critical for the overall design process, it comes into the picture when the design grows complex and the business can proceed towards technological advancements. These measures are vital for a sustainable and successful design. A good user experience becomes that key in the design process chain, which retains the users and boosts business goals. Thus, to innovate or renovate features of a digital product, a delicate balance between user-centered design and human-centered design has to be maintained.


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