Human-Centered Design: A Framework for Designing Inclusive and Accessible Products

Cory Angell
5 min readFeb 16, 2023

A Human-centered design approach to product design prioritizes the needs, wants, and experiences of users during the development of products, services, and systems. By focusing on the users, human centered design creates more intuitive, effective, desirable, and user-friendly products for the people who will use them. This approach involves deep engagement with end-users throughout the project and incorporates their feedback and insights to refine the design. The key benefit of this method is it promotes empathy and understanding from the end-users’ perspective. This helps identify and address pain points, improving the overall user experience.

Since human-centered design is flexible enough to use on a wide range of design challenges, including physical products, digital interfaces, services, and systems, its popularity continues to grow across various industries, including technology, healthcare, and education. It often leads to better adoption of products or services, increased customer satisfaction, and greater revenue.

Benefits of Human-Centered Design

Create Inclusive and Accessible Products

Human-centered design places a strong emphasis on accessibility and inclusivity by creating products a wider range of individuals can use. This approach helps ensure products are functional and equitable.

Improve User Experiences

By focusing on the needs and experiences of users, human-centered design enables product managers to create more intuitive, enjoyable, and effective products. This leads to increased user satisfaction and engagement.

Enhance Product Quality

Human-centered design focuses teams on user needs and preferences to inform the product design, enabling them to build more innovative, efficient, and effective, higher quality products.

The Human-Centered Design Process

Human-centered design is an iterative design process focusing on emphasizing the needs and experiences of your end users. It’s an iterative process, meaning designers go back and forth between the four steps until they arrive at a final product design. This approach is effective because it involves the users in the design process, leading designers to create products that meet the needs of users, leading to increased satisfaction and engagement. By putting the users at the center of the design process, product teams can create inclusive experiences to delight any audience.

The human-centered design process involves five key steps: user research, design thinking, prototyping, user testing, and implementation. Here’s a summary of each step.

User Research

Learning about users' wants and needs is the first step in human-centered design. Designers do this by studying users and their habits to get a good idea of what they require. User research is accomplished by talking to users, asking them questions, or observing their behavior. The goal is to make sure the final product is a good fit for the user. User research happens multiple times throughout the design process to keep refining the product to meet the needs and preferences of the users.

Design Thinking

The concept of design thinking is essential to human-centered design because it emphasizes a creative problem-solving approach focused on empathy and collaboration, resulting in solutions designed with the users in mind. By gaining a deep understanding of user needs, product managers can create innovative and effective solutions to solve real-world problems. The goal of design thinking is to create intuitive, enjoyable, and engaging products and services for a target demographic.

Prototyping

Prototyping involves creating a rough model of the product or feature to test its functionality and usability in a low-stakes environment, allowing product managers to identify any potential issues early on and make quick adjustments to create a more effective and user-friendly final product.

User Testing

User testing is one of the most important steps in human-centered design and involves observing and gathering feedback from users as they interact with the prototype. This step provides valuable insights into user behavior and preferences, which they can use to identify usability issues, areas of confusion, and pain points for users. By analyzing the observations and feedback from users, product teams can refine their designs more efficiently to make it more intuitive and user-friendly.

Implementation

Implementation involves a range of activities, including creating a plan for launch, preparing for distribution, and executing the launch. Product managers work closely with engineers, marketers, designers and other stakeholders to ensure they execute the design solution as intended and meet the needs of the users.

Principles of Human-Centered Design

Empathy

Empathy is at the heart of human-centered design. Product teams who practice empathy seek to understand the needs, wants, and perspectives of their users. This involves observing and listening to users, asking questions, and gathering feedback. By understanding the unique challenges and opportunities users face, product teams can create better products to meet their customers’ needs.

Inclusivity

Inclusivity means designing for a diverse range of users. It involves considering factors such as age, gender, culture, and physical and cognitive abilities. Product teams who prioritize inclusivity create accessible, easy-to-use products for all users, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities. From a business standpoint, creating an equitable product also expands the potential user base.

Accessibility

Accessibility is a key aspect of inclusivity. It involves designing products to be easy to see, hear, and use for people with vision or hearing impairments, as well as those with mobility or cognitive impairments. Product teams who prioritize accessibility provide all users with the benefits of a product, regardless of their abilities.

Collaboration

Collaboration is a cornerstone of human-centered design. When product teams collaborate with team members, stakeholders, and users to ensure products meet the needs of everyone involved, they create innovative and practical solutions. This involves sharing ideas, gathering feedback, and working together to find solutions to design challenges.

Add Human-Centered Design to your Product Toolkit

Product managers who take a human-centered approach to create products are more likely to meet user needs and be successful in the market. This approach helps to identify and address pain points, improving the user experience earlier in the product development lifecycle.

By focusing on human-centered design, product managers can:

  • Increase user satisfaction: Products designed with users in mind are more likely to meet their needs and provide a positive experience, leading to increased satisfaction and engagement.
  • Improve product adoption: Intuitive, easy to use, products are more likely to be adopted by users, leading to increased usage and revenue.
  • Reduce risk: By involving users in the design process, product teams can identify potential issues early on, reducing the risk of costly product failures.
  • Increase innovation: Human-centered design encourages creativity and innovation, leading to differentiated products designed to solve unique problems.

Human-centered design is a method product managers adopt to prioritize the needs, behaviors, and experiences of their customers. This approach results in more inclusive, accessible, and effective designs that are easy to use, enjoyable, and engaging. The goal of human-centered design is to solve real-world problems by using empathy, collaboration, and iterative design, to create products to meet the needs and preferences of the most users. This leads to increased user satisfaction and engagement.

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Cory Angell
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Agile, Product Management, Marketing, Technology. Dreamer, Doer, Believer in the power of self. https://coryangell.com https://www.twitter.com/coryangell