What is User-Centered Design?

Every day the terms user-centered design and user experience are heard in design production meetings and articles about digital media development.

Today more than ever, tight budgets are the name of the game. Usability and user experience get listed in  proposals and project plans but in the rush to get a product working and keep costs down,  this essential component of design can easily be lost or dropped from the process.

Why should we pay attention to User-Center Design?

I did a google search on user experience design and quickly found several academic papers on the principles of user experience design but felt that they didn’t encapsulate user experience in a compact manner.  I needed to go back to my paperback copy of  The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web by Jesse James Garret from 2003 to find the description that defines user experience in plain language.

User Experience by Jesse James Garret:

” When a product is being developed, people pay a great deal of attention to what is does. User experience is the other, often overlooked, side of the equation – how it works – that can often make the difference between a successful product and a failure.

User experience is not about how a product works on the inside. User experience is about it works on the outside, where a person comes into contact with it. The interaction often involves pushing a lot of buttons, as in the case of technology products such as alarm clocks, coffeemakers or cash registers. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of a simple physical mechanism, such as a gas cap on  your car.

However, every product that is used by someone has a user experience.”

I also went back to my copy of the book, The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman for his plain language description of User-Centered Design.

User-Center Design by Donald Norman:

User-centered design is a philosophy based on the needs and the interests of the users with an emphasis on making products usable and understandable”

Design should:

  • Make it easy to determine what actions are possible at any moment.
  • Make things visible
  • Make it easy to evaluate the current state of the system
  • Follow natural mappings between intentions and required actions

My favorite plain language quote on user-center design is the following from the “Design of Everyday Things.”

“In other words, make sure that (1) the user can figure out what to do, and (2) the user can tell what is going on.


You are found more information on this essential design resources at the following links:

The Elements of User Experience: User-Center Design for the Web

The Design of Everyday Things