User Centered Design (UCD) – An Overview

User Centered Design(UCD) is an approach of designing user interface keeping users (and business) in mind. UCD focuses on User’s goals, environment, needs.

Following diagram gives a brief idea of UCD process. There are various processes available today. I’m trying to focus on some important phases of UCD by using the below diagram.

UCD Process

UCD Process


At broad level, UCD consist of three phases- Research, Design and Testing. Research is all about understanding Users, their needs, what they

expect, what they think, data gathering, etc. Design is about designing screens from concept to detailed and Testing is testing whether design works

for real users in real environment.

Following points gives some more information of all the phases of UCD:

Note: I’ll refer Web site/Application/Desktop/mobile app with one word i.e. system.


1.       Research

Research start with knowing who are the users, what they (will) do with the system (high level), what business wants from the system, are there any constraints, what are

the branding values, etc. This all information is documented and is called as Design Strategy. We validate this by sharing it with stakeholders.

Next step is to create User, Task and Environment profiles. Profile describes the information about Users, Tasks and Environment. Profiles generally cover all audience of system.

Putting all the profiles together, a Persona is created which is a fictitious user of the system and we design for that persona. In other words, persona represents a user group. There could

be more than one personas depending on the system. After this we actually talk with users through various data gathering methods like Interviews, Observation, Focus Group etc. and refine the persona. Scenarios are basically used to get the requirements. It could be used as extreme conditions where system should work. It’s more like a story which has some conditions, situations.

After talking to users, we have a task list that they perform. Now these tasks are grouped together depending on their priorities, type, importance, user role then they are optimized. This is called Task Analysis. Primary Noun Architecture helps you to build the navigation of the system. It is done by looking at the tasks and finding out the primary nouns in it. This is applicable in task based systems where navigation is task based. If it is a content system, then Information Architecture technique is used, in which Card Sorting method is used to group the information and create navigation.

2.       Design

Design phase start with deciding the design framework in which lot of things are decided like type of system (desktop, web, mobile) and type of navigation (consistent,  non consistent), etc.

After this a low level / low fidelity sketches also called as Paper Prototypes are created. To be on right track these prototypes are validated with the users/stakeholders. Once approved, high fidelity wireframes are created and again validated. Design phase ends with content and visual design. These two phases again have sub phases/steps.

3.       Usability Testing

After designing its time to check/test whether design works for real users in real environment. So Usability Testing is performed. Very basic idea of this test is give the system to the users and ask to perform major task and see whether user is able to perform it with ease or not (this is applicable for task-based system).  Or for content systems, we test whether user finds the information that he is looking for. Result of Usability Testing is documented. There are few formats available online, or you can create your own also. Problems found in testing are fixed in Research or/and Design phase. There are various techniques and methods available for testing.


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