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A detailed guide on UCD Methodologies and Principles in 2024

Written By Aisha Ahmed – Last Modified On April 17, 2024

When we design a product, it is always important to know who and how it will be used. Without knowing this, there is almost no chance of making a product that will be loved by people. There’s a quote by Frank Chimero which is perfectly suitable for the importance of UCD. He Says, “People ignore design that ignores people”. UCD is all about having a deeper understanding of people who will be using your product.

Companies that use the UCD methods in their design procedure actually focus on the user and make products that are suitable for the expectations of the user. The main principle of UCD is that if you’re gathering data from users and incorporating your research into the design of your product, you will probably create products that will be loved by people.

Now, let’s discuss what UCD is, what its key principles are, and how to introduce them in the product designing procedure.

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What is user centered design?

UCD is an approach to digital product development and designing that puts actual users at the front of the product creating procedure. It involves directly speaking to the users at main points in the project to make sure it is delivering on the requirements and needs of the user.

These stages are done in a repetitive way, with the cycle getting repeated until the usability objectives of the project have been achieved. This makes it hard that the participants in these methods totally reflect the profile of the real users.

ISO 13407 has outlined the four important activities in a project of  user centered design:

  • Gathering the requirements: Properly understanding and specifying the context that is to be used.
  • Specification of Requirements: Properly specifying the organizational and user needs and requirements.
  • Design: Producing the designs and its prototypes.
  • Evaluation: Doing the user-based checking on the site.

The bullet points we have added below are about some of the most famous UCD methods and what they actually look like.

Focus groups

  • Inexpensive
  • Non-statistical output
  • Small in size
  • It should be used for gathering requirements.

Usability testing

  • Expensive
  • Statistical and non-statistical output
  • Small in size
  • It should be used For Designing and evaluating.

Card sorting

  • Expensive
  • Statistical output
  • High in size
  • It should be used For Designing.

Participatory design

  • Inexpensive.
  • Non-Statistical output.
  • Small in size.
  • It should be used For Designing.


  • Inexpensive.
  • Statistical output.
  • High in size.
  • It should be used For gathering requirements and evaluating.


  • Expensive.
  • Non-Statistical output.
  • Small in size.
  • It should be used For gathering requirements and evaluating.

UCD Methodologies

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1) Focus groups

A focus group is about encouraging an invited collection of actual users or people who intend to be a user of a site or a service to share their feelings, thoughts, ideas, and attitudes on a particular topic.

Organizing focus groups in an organization can be a huge help in getting buy-in to a project from that business or company.

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When to use focus groups?

Focus groups are most commonly used as an input for designing. They are used for gathering requirements and information about a specific domain. Also, they provide non-statistical data output.

Focus group considerations

It is essential to have an expert analyst and moderator if you want your focus groups to be effective.

2) Usability testing

Usability testing actually evaluates a website by gathering data from users when they’re using it. A person is invited to attend a session where they will be asked to perform some tasks while a moderator notes down any difficulties the user goes through.

Users are asked to follow the think-aloud protocol which is used for asking them to verbalize whatever they are doing and the reason why they’re doing it.

You can also time users to check how long it is taking them to complete every task, which is a good measurement of efficiency even though you should always remember that using that protocol will slow down the users probably.

Two experts are normally needed for every session. One to moderate, and the other one to note down the issues.

When to use usability testing?

Usability testing is used as an input to design at the end of some project. It is a great way to uncover the main accessibility and usability issues with a digital prototype or site.

Usability testing is used to generate both statistical or non-statistical data.

3) Usability testing considerations

Usability testing needs some kind of design to be available to tests, even if it is just on a paper.

Testing works great if it is focusing on statistical measure or non-statistical feedback on some design through the “talk aloud” protocol.

4) Card sorting

Card sorting is a process of suggesting instinctive categories or structures. A participant is presented with a pack of index cards which is unsorted. Every card comes with a written statement on it which is related to some page of the website. 

The participant has to sort the cards into separate groups and then name the groups. The results of different sortings by every participant are then combined and checked statistically.

When to use card sorting?

Card sorting is mostly used as an input to design. It is a great way of suggesting great categories for content of a site and deriving the website information architecture of that website.

Card sorting is used to get statistical data as an output.

Card sorting considerations

Providing a trial run to the participants on some easy cards like animals, sports, etc can assure them about what they have to do which results in an efficient session.

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5) Participatory design

Participatory design doesn’t just ask for user opinions on design problems but even involves them in the process of decision making and designing. 

When to use participatory design?

Participatory design is mostly used for a small sized project to get prototypes that feed into the over design procedure of a project.

An example of it would be a participatory design workshop where designers, developers, and users are working together to design a starting prototype. This digital prototyping is then fed into a traditional designing procedure.

The usage of this approach is quite uncommon. As a supplement to other UCD techniques, it is most often used.

Considerations of Participatory design 

Collaborative design sessions may be unpredictable at times, necessitating the assistance of a skilled moderator familiar with the subject matter.

6) Questionnaires

A quantitative survey, also known as a questionnaire, is a kind of user research that asks every user for a response to a set of questions that is predefined. It is a great way of getting statistical data.

When to use questionnaires?

Questionnaires are mostly employed when a design team can only gain online access to users of their site. They are also employed when the team is seeking a larger sample that they can get by contacting the user directly.

This is exactly why these surveys are mostly sent through a post or through emails.

Questionnaire considerations

These surveys let you get statistical analysis as an input. This data can enhance the credibility of a study but it is essential to make sure the survey is designed perfectly and the questions are unbiased.

7) Interviews

An interview mostly involves only one interviewer who speaks to one user at a time.

The benefits of an interview are that the unique point of view of a participant can be explored properly. It is also the care that any issues between the user and the interviewer are quickly known and are addressed. 

The output generated of an interview is mostly non-statistical. It is essential that the reports of every interview are analyzed properly by expert practitioners.

When to use interviews?

Interviews are mostly employed at the start of the design process to make sure you’re getting a detailed understanding of an area of specific requirements or activity.

Interview considerations

Interviewing lets you get a high premium on the skill and experience of an analyst and interviewer.

User-centered design examples 

Now that we have covered the basics of what user-centered design is, let’s check out some user-centered design examples.

1) Typeform

People mostly get tired of boring surveys. They get so tired that they close it as soon as they open it. The basic format has not changed for years as the questionnaires just remind them of the school tests. It is hard to convince users to engage and give some feedback. Then, typeform came along and created surveys that users enjoy interacting with.

By only showing one question at a time, surveys actually feel like conversations. This simple design choice encourages them to answer thoughtfully and has a better completion rate. Designers can program the survey to give conditional follow-up questions to make sure a natural flow is going on where no extra questions are to be asked.

Typeform highlights that UCD’s goods will be transformed by packing the experience with amazing visuals, colors, and personalizing the form according to the brand’s criteria.

2) Notion

Notion is a tool that can’t be defined easily. It can be used for project management, archiving documents, team collaboration, or building databases. But, users have found it great to use for personal scheduling, expense tracking, publishing portfolios and resumes, and note-taking.

Ye, Notion can be a great solution for users use cases such as project management but it serves a general focus. It is hard to build a product that is serving a lot of different use-cases while still having a user centric approach to the design. Notion does that by focusing on organizational challenges of the users, their mindset and the way they approach things such as visual organization.

And the results are obvious. Ever since it has been released, Notion has been really famous amongst designers. By taking into account the commonalities of their various user personas, Notion is now a tool that is really versatile and can adapt to the needs of the user no matter what the needs are.

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Benefits of user centered design

User-centered design can bring many benefits to your company. It can:

1) Increase your Sales

Customers will most likely buy a service or product that meets the requirements.

2) Boost Competitiveness 

Customers won’t choose products of other businesses if your product is the perfect fit for them.

3) Build positive user experiences 

Increase a good reputation and loyalty for your brand or business.

4) Help you gain insight 

This can lead to innovative new services and products.

5) Save your business time and money 

By testing things with real users when it is still economical to make any changes.

By including the customers in the designing procedure, user-centered design will also:

  • Help in designing a safer and more effective product.
  • Gives your users a better sense of ownership in your service or product.
  • Eliminate the requirement to change the design later in the procedure, avoiding greater costs and delay in time.

It is essential to adopt a ucd approach at the start of the opportunity. This allows everyone who should be involved like research, marketing, or engineering teams, a clear picture of how you will be calling on their experience to be beneficial to the project. A good strategy will always eliminate the risk of conflicts which wastes the time and money of your business. 

UCD Investment Pays off

You spend your money, time, and other resources into a manner of discovering what works flawlessly, what doesn’t, and why when your design team includes users in all stages of the design process.The users are an early-warning system you can consider to correct and tune your software design. They can expose a lot of positive and negative features and your team might have overlooked some vital areas like accessibility and usability. This is why it is really essential to know how powerful the advantages of a ucd approach are.

The 4 main ways in which UCD always pays off are:

  • With the closer involvement of users, products will probably meet the expectations and requirements of the user. This results in more sales and reduced costs sustained by customer services.
  • System designers custom products for users in specific contexts and tasks, thus lessening the chances of situations that include a high risk of human error occurring. UCD has a safer product outcome.
  • If the designers are in close contact with their users, it means a deeper sense of empathy will come up. This is important in creating a user-friendly design that will respect the quality of life and privacy of the user as well.
  • By focusing on all the users of your product, designers can know the diversity of human values and cultures through UCD, a step in the correct direction of creating a sustainable business.

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User-Centered Design Tools

1- Hotjar

Hotjar is one of the greatest ways to visualize how users interact with your application or website. User interaction recording shows the actual behavior of the users, while surveys and feedback forms communicate the user needs. This is a great tool for gaining proper insights into the needs of your users.

2- UsabilityHub

A user research platform that lets you validate the designs with the actual users. Design surveys, tests, or compare your design options with each other. It is a really helpful tool for designers, product managers and markets.

‍3- Figma

Figma is an all-in-one tool for designing, prototyping, and collaborating. Once you get a handle on the needs of the users, you will have to brainstorm and develop your own design. 

Figma’s editor is convenient to use and fun for experienced product creators as well as beginners. Collaboration is facilitated by diagrams and sticky notes on a whiteboard and you can manage all of your assets in one sharable file. 

Overall, it’s a great comprehensive application for building UX, UI, web development and designing projects.

4- Reveall

Reveall helps in turning your customer research data into prioritized actions which are clear. It is an all-in-one application for people who put users at the center of their work. There is no point in combining a bunch of information that gets filed away or is really confusing to inspire meaningful actions. 

Reveal helps in automatically gathering qualitative and quantitative customer data from the research and feedback. On this platform,  you can always make sure the data is visualized through stories and journeys in such a way that allows you to get to the bottom of the needs of your customers. Identify the opportunities and set your right priorities to help in achieving your goals.

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User-Centered Design Process

Many product teams depend on a design procedure which has five stages and is proposed by Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. That procedure has the stages mentioned below:

  • Empathizing.
  • Defining.
  • Ideating.
  • Prototyping.
  • Testing.

UCD can be applied for all the above mentioned stages of this procedure. Interaction Design Foundation also tells how the requirement clarification can benefit the procedure of designing and what process the team should follow to formulate the needs in a better way. That process is as follows

  • Know the conditions of its usage.
  • Specify the requirements of the user.
  • Design suitable software.
  • Evaluate against the needs.

Let’s review some techniques that help the product team in designing a better user experience:

1- Research

The job of UX designers is to visualize what their users should be experiencing and only research can help them get this knowledge. The goal while doing this stage is to understand who we are designing the product for.

Creating personas

Personas are prototypes of real users. It is actually a representation of specific people who have similar needs, behaviors, attitudes, skills, and goals. Personas help in bringing your users to life and in understanding their issues in a better way. This understanding lets designers make the correct decision about the features, interactions, design, and navigation of the product.

To create a persona, you need to have a better understanding of the audience you’re targeting, people who will be using your product. It is essential as if you don’t understand your target audiences, you will probably end up creating the wrong software for your users.

Specify the context of use and scenarios of interactions

When a product team knows clearly who will be using the product, they’ll start thinking how they will use it. The main thing is to establish why the users would be interested in your product and how they will be using it. It is always essential to know that people use products to achieve their specific goals. They see your product as a problem solver to the issue they have. Thus, when you create a context of their use, always start with an issue that a user will go through. By formulating an issue clearly, you will get more chances to produce a better use case for your product.

When it is about writing the scenario of interaction, it is vital to think about a few things:

User environment: Where the interaction will be taking place. Is it a loud street or an office space which is quiet?

Medium: What device the user will be using. Is it a computer with a huge screen or a phone with a small screen?

Mood: What is the emotional state of your user? How the user feels at the stages of the user journey.

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2- Concept Ideation

Once you get a clearer understanding of your preferred audience and the issue you will be solving, you’re ready to create the actual software.

User Mapping Journey

To make a proper solution for the issue, it is important to look at the user interactions with a service or product holistically. Mostly, we want our feature to fit in the ecosystem that is already existing used by the users. That is why it’s important to know what typical interactions will be looking like.

After you get to know this, you can start visualizing your journey. It is possible to use different techniques for this. We recommend using a user mapping journey and storyboarding. A user journey map is a great tool for UX designers as it visualizes how a user will be interacting with a product and lets designers see a product from the point of view of the user.

Storyboarding will be using a story of interaction in its foundation, and this is what makes the interaction better. Also, storyboarding will allow you to convey the emotional state of a user during different parts of your journey.

Creating information architecture

Information architecture is actually the art and science of organizing knowledge in the products and it is important to work on that before you move to the design state as it will affect the way you are designing particular pages or screens. When you work on IA, you will use a tree testing technique. This technique is a way of examining your IA. This technique is about examining the structure of your product. You have your number of questions and the users will try thinking of the answers in the context of the navigation structure.

3- Validation

Validation is not just a step of the whole procedure but is a constant activity that is happening along the way while you are working on software creation. It is suggested to evaluate the design decision through usability testing with the real users.

Observe how users interact with your product

Observation is a great technique of collecting insights about your users. When you know how the actual users are interacting with your product, you gain a lot of knowledge on what works better for the user. There are two techniques for validation of the decisions of design which are usability testing and contextual inquiries.

Usability testing will help understanding what issues users go through when they are interacting with your design. Contextual inquiry is a technique of user research that includes observing and interviewing users while they are performing tasks in context. This technique is a combination of quantitative research and user interviews. The person who is conducting the inquiry will be observing how the users do their tasks and have them talk about what exactly they are doing while they interact with your product.

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How to create a user-centered design process?

1- Research

Research can be a long and difficult procedure if you do it right. Your goal should always be to have a proper understanding of the needs and requirements of your users. If you do it correctly, the insights you get from the research will play a huge role in developing a great user-centered product.

Employ a mix of research procedures to understand your customers or users better. Then, you can develop user personas that can guide your development procedure from ideation to deployment.

Clear user personas are helpful at the start of the designing procedure. It provides you with an example of your archetypal user and lets you effectively connect users who have similar patterns, including their backgrounds, goals, behavior, and needs. A product can be targeted to multiple users. Still, it is essential to know who you are designing your project for and which people’s considerations are important and should be featured in your product.

Don’t forget, never begin your design procedure with the product, but instead, begin it with your user. When you focus on the user, you will understand which features you should be prioritizing, how you will be marketing them to the users, and what visual design elements you should add to your product.

Research is an essential part of the ucd procedure, but it is the most difficult one. Collecting the correct data, organizing it, and performing actions is not easy.

2- Define and align your requirements

It’s good to shoot for the moon, but you will still have to design a feasible and viable product. That is where having the correct requirements and goals is important. 

It is essential to work with a team of people to establish the boundaries of your project. You need to define a clearer scope and appetite for your designs and then make sure they align well with the needs and requirements of your user.

There may be some changes needed between the teams and the design. But, in the end, rightly aligned goals will help create a perfect product for all those involved in the process. There is nothing harder than investing effort and time into the whole design process that gets blocked by stakeholders as it has some misalignment.

3- Design solutions

Now that you have collected all the needed data, you can start prototyping your product designs. This part might be a little fun for you. You can bring all the ideas in your mind to life with a perfect design for your software.

Start with a wireframe and continue from there. Even though you are not at the testing phase yet, you can still validate your decisions at every single step. You already have collected many important data to inform this process, and constant feedback will help you stay connected to the track.

Flesh out your wireframe with a storyboard and a user journey map. The map will help visualize your users’ journey. At the same time, they use your product, and the storyboard will give you an emotional justification for every design choice you make through the process.

When you have come up with a rough draft of your design, critique it by asking yourself a lot of questions, including:

  • Is it easily accessible? Ensure that the user can easily locate the required data or information. Offer different routes to the same information, or ensure they are guided to the right path quickly and conveniently.
  • Is it easily understandable? The design is going to be used to facilitate quick comprehension. What is its purpose, who will use it, and how will it be used? The text should be easily readable, and the language should always be sweet and short.

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4- Evaluate with feedback

Now is the perfect time to allow your users into the user-centered process again. Evaluate your prototype through proper user testing and consider their feedback.

Just notice how users are interacting with your product:

  • Does this design solve the primary and basic issues of your user?
  • What can we do to make this design even better?
  • How are the user research added into the design process and the final design?
  • What went right in the process? How can they repeat it?

You can repeat some of the design methods from the user research phase, such as usability testing, focus groups, etc., to gain more insights about what went wrong and how close you came to the mark.

Don’t just expect to get everything right when you do this process for the first time. This design process is an approach that needs a lot of patience and will give you the best results in the end if you are patient.

5- Iterate

The most important stage of the design process is iterating. Then, reiterating, and then again repeating. Do this as many times as you have to just to get the final product which is appealing for your users and comes up to their requirements. If you know that there are some parts of your application that really need to be fixed, you don’t want to just wait for the best solution to be designed. Start with some feedback, then build something which is even better than the current software and keep repeating and improving till you get the best version of it.

Always remember that it is okay if you end up failing sometimes. All the best business and products are just rough outlines and unpolished ideas at the start. They get improved later. Keep your user updated and you will have a guiding force that never lets you get off the track.

Once you have created the best product, your users will be your best supporters. There is no better strategy of growth than this one.

User Centered Design Principles

UCD depends on some basic principles that can be applied for the process of product designing.

Users are involved in the process of designing from the start. Decisions of critical designs are done depending on how they work for the actual users. 

Importance of requirement clarification: The product team always tries aligning business requirements with the needs of the user.

Introducing user feedback loop in the life cycle of a product: The product team is collecting and analyzing the feedback regularly from the users. This data helps the team in making decisions based on the user preference.

Repetitive design procedure: The product creation team keeps working on enhancing the user experience. It makes changes slowly as it gains better understanding about their preferred audience.

What’s essential to remember about UCD?

UCD is about turning the empathy concepts to specific requirements of your product. Concepts based on empathy like the thoughts, feelings, and frustrations of a user take a central stage in UCD. Designers of the products should be able to turn the concepts based on empathy into the systematic needs such as the goals and interaction habits of the user which is something that the complete team can use to create a product.

No guessing, no personal opinions

Non-validated personal opinions about design also called as personal bias helps in preventing designers from creating a good design. In UCD, every decision about design should be done on the basis of information you have about the users and validation during the process of testing.

Involving all team members in product design

UCD works even better when a multidisciplinary team is included in the process of designing. When a team contains people with distinct disciplines and backgrounds, it can have more creative designing decisions.

UCD and business

The environment where a team is creating a solution has a huge effect on the outcome. If the environment is prioritizing goals of the business over those of their users, this sometimes ends up in making a completely user centered product. Thus, UCD needs a change of focus from business goals to the requirements of the users. Actually, product management should try to attain a balance between users’ goals and business goals.

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Every product development is a whole new journey. The product team makes some decisions during the process and the outcome is totally dependent on the decisions. If we prioritize the needs and wants of our user, and strive to create a design based on user’s preference, our journey will end up having a product loved by its users.

UCD is not just about creating a great product but it goes beyond that. By giving your users the spotlight, you’re following their intentions. You are showing that it is not all about making profit or meeting a deadline. But, you’re connecting to your users and telling them you do understand what they want and take care of their requirements.

It is no surprise that the best performing teams are the user-centric ones. Knowing the requirements of your custom is the key to success and design is not an exception. Create products that are only about the users and you will get the final product that the user loves. If you’re looking for a software development agency, you can Contact Us.


What is the correct cycle of User centered design?

The four main phases of UCD are Analysis, Implementations, Testing and Evaluation.

How is UCD different from Design thinking?

UCD is a methodology which practices on improving the usability and user experience of a product or a service. Design thinking is focused on creation and innovation and is about an idea of thinking for developing new services, products, and solutions for social issues.

What are the key principles of a user-centered design approach?

The Key principles of user-centered design include:
1- Design for users and their tasks.
2- Maintain consistency.
3- Use simple and natural dialogue.
4- Reduce extra mental effort by the user. 
5- Give adequate feedback.
6- Give proper navigation and mechanism.
7- Let the user be incharge.
8- Provide information clearly.
9- Provide assistance.
10- Error-free.

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