Putting the Customer First with User-Centered Design

Your company’s website exists for your visitors, so shouldn’t they be at the heart of your website design process? Decode the buzzwords “user-centered” and “human-centered” design to make your website as effective as possible.

As a person who exists in the world-- and, you know, doesn’t live under a rock-- you’ve probably heard the term user-centered or human-centered design come up at some point in the last few years. These terms describe a design process that focuses on understanding your users’ perspectives and incorporating that knowledge into every facet of your design. When applied to website design, these strategies produce sites that are easier for visitors to navigate and accomplish your company’s goals more effectively. It’s a win-win situation.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to take advantage of user-centered design to improve your website:

  • An overview of the steps involved in user-centered design
  • Observation
  • Ideation
  • Rapid prototyping
  • User feedback
  • Iteration
  • Implementation

creative team
‍User-centered design is a creative process that generates outcomes that are good for both your customer and your bottom line.

User-Centered Design in 6 Easy Steps

When you think of companies that prioritize creative problem solving and user-centered design, corporations like Google and Apple likely come to mind. It is true that they are generally regarded as masters of putting user-centered design into practice. Design firm IDEO, however, probably plays the biggest role in developing user-centered design strategies in the first place. In late 2014, IDEO released a guidebook to user-centered design that breaks the process down into 6 easy-to follow steps.

user-centered design process
‍The user-centered design process is cyclical, not linear. There’s always room to keep improving.

Step 1: Observation

The first and perhaps most important step of user-centered design is observing your user. Understand what they’re hoping to get out of your website and what their specific needs and concerns might be. Try to determine any pain points, or aspects of their experience with your site that might be confusing or not quite satisfactory. You need to put yourself in your users’ shoes as best as you possibly can, which is why session recording becomes such a valuable tool. But we’ll talk more about that in a bit.

Step 2: Ideation

Next up is brainstorming, or as people in the user-centered design field prefer to call it, ideation. The goal of this phase is to come up with as many ideas as possible about how to address the needs you uncovered in the observation phase. For now, don’t worry about practical issues like how long it would take to implement, costs associated with implementation, etc. Just turn out as many ideas as you can. Many user-centered designers employ the technique of sticky note ideation to help them and their teams develop as many solutions as possible.

sticky note ideation
‍Sticky note ideation is a simple but effective method to brainstorm a lot of solutions very quickly.

Step 3: Rapid Prototyping

This step is a lot of fun because it gives your creativity plenty of room to do its thing. In the rapid prototyping stage, you want to select a solution that you feel strongly about-- one you really think might work. Then, figure out a way to mimic the functionality of this solution without dedicating the time and energy to actually coding it into your website. What does that look like? It’s up to you! You can place sticky notes on a piece of poster board to replicate a website layout or draft a somewhat more realistic model using Power Point. Your deliverable here is essentially a rough draft, something you can give to the user for them to review.

Step 4: User Feedback

At this point in the game, you’ve created something you think will improve your users’ experience with your website. Whether you’re testing a new navigation bar, an interactive tool like a map or a calculator, or even a new page layout, the only way to find out whether or not it works for your users is to ask them. The testing phase can be tedious, but it’s also essential to the user-centered design process. If you aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry: Inspectlet’s got you covered with a comprehensive user testing guide.

‍Remember: user-centered design is about your customers, so be sure you listen to what they have to say.

Step 5: Iteration

User-centered design is not a linear process: it’s a cycle. After you hear what your users have to say, you should make changes to your design to better accommodate their needs. That’s why you should still be working with models at this point-- paper, cardboard, Power Point slides. It’s easy to adjust models like these until you (and your users!) are satisfied with your design.

Step 6: Implementation

Once you have iterated through a few versions of your ideas, it’s time to really put your idea into action! Now is the time for your website update to go live. Congrats! After it goes life, consider jumping back into observation using session recording and other tools to see if there are any other issues you can address.

‍Session recordings allow you to see how visitors interact with sites, like this visitor interacting with Responsival’s page.

Session Recording: The Ultimate User Observation Tool

When you want to know how a user interacts with a physical product-- a cooking utensil, a piece of exercise equipment, or any other object-- the process is pretty straightforward: you just give it to them and watch. But how do you observe your website’s visitors? Session recording is the perfect solution to the user-centered website designer’s dilemma. It records your visitors’ sessions on your website, essentially allowing you to look over their shoulders and see how they interact with your site. An added bonus, because the recordings are saved, you can compare how users interact with your site before and after you implement new ideas, giving you concrete data to show how your site visitors’ experience has changed.

User-centered design is a great way to make sure your site’s visitors are happy and increase the chances they make it through your your website and ultimately convert.