User-centred design is based on the concept that the best-designed products or services come from understanding the needs of the people who will use them. Most products or services undergo market testing and user research, but this often comes too late in the new product development process when significant changes might not be possible.
Ideally, you should actively engage with potential end-users in the early stages of developing a product or service. This could help guide your product and service development.
Step 1: Identify your users
First, you need to identify who you mean by 'user'. Are they members of the public who might find your product on a supermarket shelf and use it in their home? Or are they trade customers who you want to establish a service contract with?
Each user will have different perspectives and needs. You may find that one or more types of customers are relevant users of your product or service, and the challenge there is to manage a design project that understands them all.
Step 2: Engage with consumers
You should engage with your potential users directly, rather than through findings from market research or from your own experiences. For example, you could ask them to:
- keep video diaries while they use your product or service
- take part in workshops where they analyse their experience of your business and your products
User-centred design should be separate from market research. Market research focuses mainly on understanding the market in general terms, for example, by:
- identifying triggers to buy or use a product or service
- finding acceptable price points
Find out more about market research and market reports.
Step 3: Observe and analyse users
It's important to immerse yourself in your users' context - the circumstances and ways people are likely to use your product. This immersion exposes unexpressed needs that might be missed without the full context. For example, spend time with users as they perform relevant tasks at home or work. While they try out your product, you should observe and note where they use things easily and where they have trouble. Take note of what they say - but keep in mind that it is often the things they don't say which can give the greatest insights.
Analysing this type of observational research will help you to identify any important themes and take them forward. You may want to capture your findings visually with a camera or video recorder, so that you can share with the design team.
Step 4: Evaluate prototypes
As your design ideas and concepts develop, you should continue to gather input from end-users. Where possible, show them models of potential solutions that you have created based on their ideas and seek feedback.
Most products and services have different types of users, so try to gather input from the widest range of potential customers possible. This will allow you to get the most out of your user research. Carrying out repeat observations or evaluations with the same type of user will limit any findings.
Find more top tips for user-centred design.