What is Human-Centred Design?

Introduction

The major connection between the invariable nature of human psychology through time and the need to interact with emerging technologies create challenges for the design of any physical object. An increasing need for making an account for psychology and psychopathology of everyday human actions should impose its narrative on the field of design of the physical objects. Norman (2013) describes a set of techniques that can be collectively called human-centred design (HCD), and that aim to align various aspects of the way people interact with psychical objects on a daily basis. The objective of HCD relies on the fact that the design process of any physical objects could incorporate both the specifics of how people interact with the new technologies and tools, as well as the constant aspects of human psychology and cognitive processes.

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In many ways, the conceptual model of HCD is the opposition of the conceptions of design thinking and user-centred design. In the framework of Norman’s work, the profound understanding of the dispositions of human psychology, the variance of interaction with technology and tools, and everyday actions should be prior in the process for the design to serve its purpose. Meanwhile, the design thinking promotes the idea that there should be a complex approach to design as such, where, in the process of human interactions with the psychical objects, there is no place for human error, but every malfunction is a flaw in the design. In such a way, design thinking expects people to adapt to new technology. The user-centred approach also deals with the alignment of the technology to the needs of a user, but it does not rely on any dispositions of the human cognitive or psychological specifics, thereby aligning the new technologies to people post-factum. In such a way, new designs have flaws, and they repeat the mistakes of the previous design versions. Meanwhile, Norman claims that in order for the design to serve its purpose, the understanding of psychology, psychopathology, and technology should precede intermediate implementation of that design.

Norman supports the idea that design should be a complexity of various approaches used for the design of physical objects in order to align them with the ever-changing modes of modern life in terms of psychology and psychopathology of everyday human actions, including seven stages of action cycle, interactive cycle, and the double-diamond model of design. On the other hand, it is important not to forget that design thinking and user-centred design approach entail a slightly different understanding of human error, namely its mere objective is to minimise the possibility of such error via resilience engineering, and i.e. they rely on a heuristically different conceptual model. Therefore, one of the objectives of this paper is to determine the principles, methodology, and influences of HCD with the consideration for not only Norman’s understanding of everyday human actions but also other conceptions of design as a phenomenon that manifests itself not only in physical objects.

Principles of Human-Centred Design

HCD manifests itself both as a philosophy and a set of practical techniques used in the design process. The theoretical frameworks and practical implementation of HCD as such complexity is possible due to its major principles of discoverability and understanding. There are several techniques that designers need to consider while preventing error in the generation of sound designs. It is critical to understand that mishaps can occur in the process. In terms of discoverability as a way of defining dispositions, intentionality, and reasons behind actions, HCD implies that the discomfort and struggle of people with technology is a fault in technology rather than human cognitive abilities. In comparison to user-centred approaches, where it is important to use technology when the people have acquired adequate competence, in HCD design should be adapted to humans and not vice versa. It is perfectly natural that the designers should integrate new technology and knowledge into the designed objects, but it also needs to relate to the processes involved in the formulation of human-centred decisions, i.e. in the way people interact with and discover objects.

Secondly, the principle of understanding is about the collaboration of people and device. In this regard, the designers should utilise the power of natural and human-made challenges pertaining to physical, logical, semantic, and socio-cultural aspects (Norman 2013). In other words, the design principle emphasises a need to apply power to force functions and natural mappings.

Human-Centred Design Methodology

Since Norman (2013) acknowledges that a mismatch between human competencies and technological requirements is likely to occur when a new technology is introduced, HCD offers a set of methodology that is to be used in the design process. In this regard, the human-centred design process comprises several methodologies that guide individuals to identify the correct problems and find the right solutions. Given the fact that the effectiveness of new designed objects relies on the understanding of human psychology and the way human beings interact with the physical world in general and new tools or technologies, in particular, the major methods of identifying whether a designed product corresponds to the needs and technological demands of people and whether it agrees with human cognitive processes is observation and experimentation.

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The reasoning that Norman provides in terms of methodological manifestation of HCD is sound in a way that it presupposes eliminating the majority of design problems at the level of research and development, while a newly designed technology is tested on it is for people to interact with it. One of the techniques of the human-centred design includes seven stages of human action that help designers to bridge the gap between execution and evaluation (Norman 2013). The stages of implementation include plan, specification, and performance. On the other hand, the stages of evaluation include perceiving the state of the world, interpretation, and comparison of the outcome. According to Norman (2013), some actions may not necessarily warrant all the stages involved in the human-centred design. In such a way, observation of interaction between human and technology is indeed a main methodological tool; however, it is still not precisely clear to which degree the feedback from the stage of the specification can be considered sufficient and relevant for the further designing activities. Overall, in terms of the design specification, it can be utilised as a primary area of focus to the extent where it serves the purpose of defining the capabilities of humans who interact with the technology. However, in Norman’s work, it is problematic to define when the feedback of interaction and experience is sufficient for identifying how a new design agrees with the cognitive dispositions.

The four accomplishments are iterated and carried out in a repetitive cyclic manner; hence, the world spiral. The method adopts the double-diamond design of divergence-convergence (Norman 2013). Observation is the initial activity of the method. It entails research on information to determine customer needs with a view of gauging whether they will consume the products or services of the firm.In this methodology, the researchers visit the customers to study their interests, motives, and actual needs. From observation, the designers can define the real problem and develop products that are people-centred (Norman 2013). The observers must ensure that they guide their research to focus on the target audience. For instance, in an automobile company, the researchers should direct the observation activities towards potential customers.

Ideation entails the generation of the idea following a dedicated identification of people’s needs. It can be done for double diamonds to identify the problem and seek a correct solution. This phase requires creativity and idea generation methods that fall under this activity. It encompasses major features including the generation of substantial ideas regardless of the preconceived constraints. The designer is encouraged to avoid criticism the thoughts of other people as they can contain creative insights that can be converted into useful products or services (Norman 2013).

Prototyping involves putting each idea into test through a mock-up of possible solutions. The ‘Wizard of Oz’ method falls into this category. It involves mimicking of huge and powerful systems before building them. The method can be effective in the product development stage. Prototyping during the product specification stage ensures a proper understanding of the problem. Testing involves introducing the newly designed product or system to a small group of people from the target audience (Norman 2013). This activity provides the designers with an opportunity to gather information through feedback concerning the prototypes.

Testing the prototype using groups or pairs of people who can discuss their feelings and experiences can provide crucial information to the inventors for modification or improvement of the design. Testing occurs at the production specification stage. Iteration in human-centred design process enables a continual improvement and refinement of the product or system. It ensures rigorous observation, prototyping, and testing (Norman 2013).

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Design Thinking

Design thinking and human-centred design are related approaches that differ in such aspects as the perception of design error, attitude to the way people interact with the technology on the cognitive level (individualization vs. the foundational psychology of ordinary interactions), and dependence on technology and innovation.

The former one promotes the idea that there should be a complex approach to design as such, where, in the process of human interactions with the psychical objects, there is no place for human error, but every malfunction is a flaw in the design. In such a way, design thinking expects people to adapt to new technology. The primary aim is to go beyond the assumptions that hamper effective solutions. Furthermore, it incorporates existing technology for invented purposes because the process of developing new devices, in this approach, is technology-driven.

Rinkus et al. (2005) support the idea that those techniques can be combined especially in the environments where a technological shift is accompanied by a necessity of many people using technology. Norman (2005) also adds to the idea that design thinking relates to human-centred design in that it taps into capacities that are often overlooked by out-mode problem-solving practices.

On the other hand, despite the fact that the human-centred design has been applied in numerous disciplines including engineering, social platforms, business and industry, and healthcare, the technology-driven productions are not always willing to apply HCD. For example, Yanagida et al. (2009), who promote structured scenario-based design method see the flaw of HCD in the way that it lacks the ability to envision intrinsic needs of target customers.

There is a number of reasons for critiquing Norman’s approach in relation to designs that are technology-driven. Firstly, it would need a prolonged period of research and development stage (with consideration for all the stages of processing feedback from experiments and users). And secondly, there are still some factors of subjectivity in defining psychological and cognitive dispositions engaged in the process of human interaction with technology, i.e. there is a lack of empiric approaches to proving the quality of such feedback. However, none other design philosophy creates an approach that can be universal for all user and, at the same time, be compliant with other methods.

Human-Centred Design Critique

The majority of critiquing concerning Norman’s conception of HCD refers to either the lack of its orientation to technology or to the fact that there supposedly should be some middle-ground alternatives between the uniformitarian concept of human-centred design and practical approaches of customised technology. In such a way, Jokela et al. (2003) underline the fact that design thinking and user-centred design allow the designers to incorporate the technology faster into various commodities (p. 53). Meanwhile, Seffah (2003) views human-centred design from the point of view of software engineers, particularly suggesting that technology can empirically be prior to human needs and customer demand.

Norman refers to the history of development of typing keyboards, suggesting that the technology adapted in order not only to be more psychically convenient for humans but also to comply with human cognitive abilities, namely the technologies of mobile devices are now being constantly improved in terms of predictive technologies and various means to enhance the speed of typing, so that it works at the same speed as human cognitive processes and thinking, in general. Thus, the designers responsible for devising keyboard, including QWERTY, rely on HCD in relation to understanding the way people interact with technology psychologically (Norman 2013). Meanwhile, Rinkus et al. (2005) claim that human-centred design can be used as an ultimate philosophy if accompanied by other techniques.

One of the examples of incorporating user-centred design alongside the psychological and interactive elements of typical iPhone user interface (Ebner, Stickel & Kolbitsch 2010). Meanwhile, Karlen et al. (2011) support the idea the high-tech companies are technology-driven, and the market of any technological devices is more likely to create the need rather than incorporate psychological aspects first.

Brown and Wyatt (2015) prefer design thinking as a separate practice to HCD. However, those two combined are able to manifest the correlation between affordances and signifiers in terms of finding a common (cognitive and psychological) ground between humans who are different in all the other aspects. In such a way, Norman’s approach does not deny the uniqueness of every human but reasonable admits that any individualised approach would be able to reach the level where it recognises the specific needs of each human.

Human-Centred Design Differences

Human-centred design and other philosophical and methodological frameworks of the design process such as activity-centred design, user-centred design, and structured scenario-based design method primarily interact and affect different aspects of human psychology, as well as vary in the level of their dependence on technology.

Norman’s perspective shows that designers are to consider both technological requirements and human aspects in the creation of user-centred solutions. In many instances, technological breakthroughs have created problems for many people where the human-centred design fails. As a result, designers ought to establish a strong understanding of technology and the psychology, as well as psychopathology and cognitive system, of human beings (Norman 2013). Thus, specific determinants of the psychology of human interactions with technology form the basis of design.

Meanwhile, the design thinking promotes the idea that there should be a complex approach to design as such, where, in the process of human interactions with the psychical objects, there is no place for human error, but every malfunction is a flaw in the design. In such a way, design thinking expects people to adapt to new technology. The user-centred approach also deals with the alignment of the technology to the needs of a user, particularly its manifest is to mitigate malfunctioning of the technology in order to eliminate frustration that it causes to the user (Abras, Maloney-Krichmar, & Preece 2004). However, it does not rely on any dispositions of the human cognitive or psychological specifics, thereby aligning the new technologies to people post-factum. In such a way, new designs have flaws, and they repeat the mistakes of the previous design versions. Structured scenario-based design method incorporates some of the techniques of HCD and attempts to envision intrinsic needs of target customers rather than use experimentation (Yanagida et al. 2009). However, the main difference is that all other approaches are either individualised and customised or trying to appeal to certain market segments, which would not be possible in the framework of Norman’s philosophy of design.

Human-Centred Design and Human Psychology

For understanding HCD, it is important to analyse it in the context of other Norman’s ideas, and particularly in relation to his foundational psychology of everyday actions approach and the understanding of knowledge of meaningful and arbitrary things. HCD model contradicts the foundations of relativist psychology in terms of identifying differences in human cognition and perception in a larger perspective.

Human-centred design pictures humans as the focal determinants of the design process as Norman’s presumption is that all humans share the same cognitive basis. However, in relation to design, it is impossible to prove empirically since the evaluation is based partly on feedback and observations, both of which can have a certain extent of subjectivity (Giacomin 2014). Moreover, defining a human as the only interacting agent that complies with the affordance, signifier, discoverability, and understanding components does not directly imply that the knowledge of arbitrary things is the same to all humans.

One of the issues that make defining the concept of human in Norman’s doctrine is that he uses a specific connotation of the terms of affordance. In relation to NCD, it determines the relationship between a physical object and an interacting agent. In this regard, within the framework of NCD, one of the major challenges is how the particular distinction between whether animal or human, or even machines and robots would be drawn. It is a significant challenge because the definition of a human merely as an interacting agent not sufficient. In relativist sociology, there are other simple agents and complex agencies that interact with devices, but unlike it is for human beings, it would be even more challenging to analyse either the intentionality of those agents or their cognitive abilities that influence the patterns in which design gains discoverability and understanding.

The mere association between properties of an object and the potential dispositions of an agent can establish the purposes for which a particular device will be used. In NCD, the device is to adapt to human beings. For example, an information carrier should have an amount of memory that surpasses human abilities in order for its design to be useful. However, from the point of view of relativist perspective, the demand for a robot will be different. In the situation with complex agencies, such as social institutions, it may not be possible to define particular dispositions of an interacting agent and, therefore, its properties as an element of affordance.

On the other hand, communication and feedback as important parts of HCD are also not inherent for all possible interacting agents. It would not be possible for the designers to receive a sufficient amount of feedback from an animal, for example. Thus, Norman defines only those interacting agents that can comply with the affordance, signifier, discoverability, and understanding components as human. From the point of view of neuroscience, the interaction and experiment that are primary methods in HCD are crucial since only in such way it is possible for human to shape technology and not be dictated by it (Giacomin 2014).

Among the other model following Norman’s principles is the model used by Jeff Bezos, the current CEO of Amazon.com, who puts customers’ preferences and requirements ahead of the marketing strategy itself, and refers to his approach as “customer obsessed” (Norman 2013). In many ways, such approach is based on Norman’s theory that all human being have the same or immensely similar underlying psychological structure in their everyday actions. On the other hand, the entirely individualised approaches could not have been used for a project of such a large scale as Amazon.com. NCD attempts to incorporate the processes that people are unaware of in technological designs. However, the interpretations of cognitive and psychological dispositions in relation to humans as interacting agents, in some ways, relies on the feedback and observations, both of which bear subjectivity in evaluations.

Conclusion

HCD manifests itself as a set of various methods to ensure that technologies align with the needs of the interacting agents. In terms of modern marketing approaches, the technological developments dictate the functional spectrum of the new devices. Although the human-centred design has been applied in numerous disciplines including engineering, social platforms, business and industry, and healthcare, the technology-driven productions are not always willing to apply HCD because: (i) it requires more prolonged period of research and development stage, (ii) there are still some factors of subjectivity in defining psychological and cognitive dispositions engaged in the process of human interaction with technology.

HCD is to ensure that the product is understandable and usable. The users of designed products, services, or systems should feel the pride of utilising them with regard to reliability and effectiveness. Therefore, it should be recognised that the human-centred approach provokes thinking, creativity, and self-motivation thereby increasing the likelihood of achieving the desired goals in the product development. Thus, HCD was analysed in the context of other Norman’s ideas, and particularly in relation to his everyday action theory and the understanding of meaningful and arbitrary knowledge. Human-centred design pictures humans as the focal determinants of the design process as Norman’s presumption is that all humans share the same cognitive basis. However, in relation to design, it is impossible to prove empirically since the evaluation is based partly on feedback and observations, both of which can have a certain extent of subjectivity. In addition, defining a human as the only interacting agent that complies with the affordance, signifier, discoverability, and understanding components does not directly imply that the arbitrary knowledge is the same for all humans. However, it is still relevant that that in order for the design to serve its purpose, the understanding of psychology, psychopathology, and technology should precede intermediate implementation of that design.

References

Abras, C, Maloney-Krichmar, D & Preece, J 2004, User-centered design. Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 37, no. 4, pp.445-456.

Brown, T & Wyatt, J 2015, Design thinking for social innovation, Annual Review of Policy Design, vol. 3, no. 1, pp.1-10.

Ebner, M, Stickel, C & Kolbitsch, J 2010, iPhone/iPad human interface design, Immersive Education, vol. 2014, no. 1, pp. 489-492.

Giacomin, J., 2014. What Is Human Centred Design? The Design Journal,17(4), pp.606-623.

Jokela, T, Iivari, N, Matero, J & Karukka, M 2003, ‘The standard of user-centered design and the standard definition of usability: analyzing ISO 13407 against ISO 9241-11’, in The Latin American conference on Human-computer interaction, ACM, New York, pp. 53-60.

Karlen, W, Dumont, GA, Petersen, C, Gow, J, Lim, J, Sleiman, J & Ansermino, JM 2011, ‘Human-centered phone oximeter interface design for the operating room’, in International Conference on Health Informatics, SciTePress, Rome, pp. 433-438.

Norman, D 2005, Human-centered design considered harmful, Interactions, vol. 12, no. 4, pp.14-19.

Norman, D 2013, The Design of Everyday Things, Basic Books, New York, NY.

Rinkus, S, Walji, M, Johnson-Throop, K, Malin, J, Turley, JP, Smith, J & Zhang, J 2005, Human-centered design of a distributed knowledge management system, Journal of Biomedical Informatics, vol. 38, no. 1, pp.4-17.

Seffah, A 2003, Learning the ropes: human-centered design skills and patterns for software engineers’ education, Interactions, vol. 10, no. 5, pp.36-45.

Yanagida, K., Ueda, Y., Go, K., Takahashi, K., Hayakawa, S. and Yamazaki, K., 2009, ‘Structured scenario-based design method’, in Human Centered Design, Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 374-380.

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