Best Practices

Best practices for a user-centered design process

Wikipedia describes user-centred design (UCD) as a design philosophy, a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. When designing in this way, it's good to be mindful of certain aspects that can make this process better for the participants and more useful for the designers and organisation carrying out this research.

Communicate visually
Nobody likes reading reports. These also take a lot of time to create. Instead use whatever visual means to communicate what you have to say: screenshots, sketches, pictures, whiteboard... On these visuals you can then make notes using post-its, or with a marker. Using something external to your mind reduces misunderstandings, because it's immediately visible to everyone. And it's fast, remember: "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Find real users
When trying to find out what your users want or need, it is sometimes tempting, cheaper or faster to use other people such as their bosses, representatives or your friends or family. In the end though this does not give the best results as they simply are not the same people as your end users.

Fail early, fail often
Why fail? Because nobody can get it right the first time. An essential part of good design practice is to conduct many iterations. So in the beginning of the project you can try out many things with little cost for example with paper prototypes. The longer you wait with testing or evaluating your product, the more it will cost you to make changes and updates. A website that has been programmed, or a hardware device that is manufactured, takes more time to adapt.

Start early so that you can get the most out of it
To get the most out of your research and development, start sooner than later; the more time you have to gather and test ideas, the more time you have to refine them.

Plan ahead before carrying out a method
Before carrying out any formal or informal research, give yourself time to plan and prepare. The time that you have with individual users is limited, so it's important to consider your goals (what you want to get out of the research) so that you are able to end up with results and data that are useful to share.

Document well and document often
You might think that you'll be able to remember that 'incredibly insightful' comment from a user, but these insights are easy to overlook unless they are recorded in some way (audio, video, photo, notes, etc). Getting into the habit of documenting sessions, taking notes during observations, recording audio and taking photos will benefit your analysis immensely. It's better to have too much documentation than not enough.

Think big thoughts
In early stages of research and development, it's important to allow your participants, your colleagues and yourself to think big thoughts. There are times for refinement built into the process, but early on, don't restrict new ideas as they can lead to dramatic results, innovations and new ways of working.

Share your findings
Don't forget to share your research findings with other members of your organisation. Not only does it bring others into the design process, but it is a chance to get everyone on the same page, linking real results, data and insights to the research carried out; a direct return on investment.

Besides being about results, being user-centred can and should become part of an organisation's culture, a part of it's iterative work process which generates  creativity, innovation and human-focus.