Principles of human-centred design

Design consultant David Townson discusses his seven principles of human-centred design in a Design Council blog article. He has spent his career developing products and services to make them work for people. He argues that users are human beings – that includes every human being a design impacts.

New designers often miss this subtle point and focus on a specific primary user, says Townson. And there could be more than one primary user. The factory-workers that make it, the courier that delivers it, the installer, and the mechanic who fixes it. Even the person who disposes it at the end of its life.

“All design should be human centred, it’s as simple as that. And I mean human-centred, not ‘user-centred’ or ‘user-friendly’”

David Townson, design consultant

A hand holding a large potato being peeled using an OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler.

7 principles of human-centred design

According to Townson, these are briefly, the seven principles of human-centred design:

Get past your own great idea. Observe the environment in which you are designing, watch people in that environment, talk to people and observe them in shops.

Don’t be restricted by your own knowledge. During the research process ask smart, naive questions. Eliminate all your assumptions and turn them into validated knowledge. Being convinced you know everything isn’t conducive to that outcome.

Spend time with real people in real environments. Observation of people is crucial. It is this keen and open-minded observation that triggers off a great idea in the first place. That’s how the famous OXO Good Grips came to be designed.

Identify other users. Following on from the OXO story, the designer discovered that it wasn’t something only his wife needed. They identified expert users – chefs.

Follow your users lead and needs. Chefs wanted it too. But they wanted a blade with steel. So that’s what they did and improved the design.

Think about the whole journey of the product. As a designer you cannot just stop at your primary user as the product has a life before and after that and impacts on people beyond them. Think about what happens during and at the end of the product’s life.

Prototype and test your idea. Prototyping forces you to share your ideas rather than developing them in a vacuum. Seek out people who may have a different take on things allowing you to validate your idea and gain constructive feedback from potential users – beyond the easy feedback given from family and friends.

For more detail on Townson’s ideas see the Design Council article, Seven tenets of human-centred design.

For interest, here is the OXO story on YouTube.

What is human centred design?

A large arched walkway at night with purple bougainvillea flowers overhead. The pathway is well lit but has the line shadows of the arches across it.

It isn’t just about consulting with humans in the design process. It is about understanding the impact that design has on us as humans. Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues that people undervalue good design. There is no such thing a neutral when it comes to design of the built environment. It has either a positive or negative effect on people.

A place should inspire uses and passers by. If it doesn’t support what people need to do then it is eroding wellbeing and impoverishing people’s lives. This is especially the case when you can’t even get into a place or space because it is inaccessible. Goldhagen goes on to say that good design is less about personal taste and more about human bodies and minds. Goldhagen’s article is in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health. It is titled, What is Human-Centered Design? Should Anyone Care? 

Accessibility Toolbar