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12 Vital User-Centered Design Principles 

12 Vital User-Centered Design Principles 
Elena Mitsiou
•  30.05.2024
Discover 12 crucial user-centered design principles, that'll help you to level-up your design process and put the users at the center of all your design decisions.

Today, users have more choices than ever before. Numerous products are available in the market that resonate with their needs and preferences. Designers are working hard to create solutions that address specific problems. In such a competitive environment, it’s essential to put users first by applying crucial user-centered design principles.

These principles help ensure that users’ needs, behaviors, preferences, and challenges are considered when designing products. We have covered 12 of these principles for you along with tools you can use to make the process seamless.

What is user-centered design?

As the name suggests, User-Centered Design (USD) keeps the users at the center of the design process. Each phase focuses on understanding the end users’ needs, behaviors, and limitations by conducting interviews, surveys, observations, etc.

Instead of thriving on assumptions, we keep the users in the loop through various research and design techniques. This ensures that you can refine the product at every stage of the design process for an effective final result.

What are user-centered design principles?

Giving the users a center stage and prioritizing their needs, preferences, and limitations requires you to follow certain user-centered design principles. These guidelines will help you create products that are effective, efficient, and satisfying to use.

Let’s look at some of them below:

1. Understand user requirements

Creating designs that align with your ideal customers requires a deep understanding of their goals, needs, behaviors, and pain points. This user-centered design principle focuses on knowing your ideal users well, using different user research methods such as user interviews, surveys, and observations to define them.

After collecting that information, create a user persona that represents your ideal user, including their demographics, personal and professional backgrounds, goals and needs, pain points, behavioral traits, and more. Knowing your customers well will help keep user needs and motivations at the forefront of your user-centered design process.

Learn the essential steps for creating user persona in this quick video:

2. Always collect user feedback

The earlier you catch on issues in your designs, the better it is on your packet. Collecting user feedback regularly can help uncover these problems early on and ensure cost-effective fixes.

These early fixes in the prototyping stage will cost you much less than post-development changes. They also ensure your apps are used frequently, which becomes crucial, as research suggests about 21% of apps have only been used once.

Let’s say you are designing a fitness app with many different features for logging workouts, tracking progress, setting goals, etc. You test it with some of your target users at the prototyping stage.

Here’s the feedback you get:

  • Your workout logging process is cumbersome
  • Setting goals is too complex
  • The app can use a lot more visual elements like graphs and charts.

Getting this feedback early on can help you make these changes before you go for a final launch. This helps avoid the high post-launch fix costs and leads to higher user satisfaction and adoption rates.

💡Pro Tip

Conducting live interviews could be an excellent way to derive user feedback.

But if you are new to it, it could be challenging! To make it easy for you, we have created a video that covers everything you need to know about conducting live interviews! 

Learn more about UXtweak Live Interviews tool.

3. Involve users in the design process

Think of one good reason why your product’s end users shouldn’t be a part of the design process. You will likely fail as involving users in the design process keeps the design focused on real user requirements— no more thriving on assumptions!

Users can tell you about the problems they encounter and the solutions they think will make their lives easier. This makes them feel a part of the design process and makes them loyal to the end product.

Let’s look at some scenarios where applying this user-centered design principle makes sense:

  • Developing an online learning platform? Ask students (your end users) what will make them use it more often. Spoiler alert: gamification would be a buzzword, and you’ll find many creative ideas to make the platform interesting.
  • Working on redesigning an eCommerce website? Conduct surveys and gather customer feedback on where the website lags at present. If lengthy checkout is the problem, what steps can be eradicated? Let customers tell you the best way through.
  • Creating a mobile banking app? Complex interfaces often remain a problem in banking and financial services. Invite customers to participate in workshops to design mockups of the app’s interface and features.

Try to involve your end users as much as possible in refining your design process. You might be doing everything right, but the people who will use your product or service will give suggestions to make it even better.

4. Ensure design consistency on different devices

Let’s say you create a website with an exceptional user interface that checks all the boxes and offers users the simplest navigation possible.

However, when users switch to their mobile devices, the menu becomes difficult to browse. It barely fits the screen and takes longer to load. This inconsistency can drive your ideal audience away.

To avoid such situations, ensure your design is consistent across all devices. This means maintaining uniformity in layout, functionality, and visual elements across desktops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices.

A consistent design enhances user experience, making users feel comfortable switching between devices. This user-centered design principle ensures that users can easily navigate and interact with your application or website, no matter what device they are using.

5. Check for usability issues

Consider all the potential issues users might encounter while browsing your website or app. These issues can hinder user experience and reduce engagement.

For example, unclear navigation can make it difficult for users to navigate the interface. If users want to contact you but your “Contact Us” page is buried in multiple nested menus, they might give up in frustration.

Lengthy or overly complex forms can also overwhelm users. They may want to complete the form, but it requires too much personal information or lacks clear instructions.

To find out what these issues are in your product, conduct task-based usability testing with users. During a usability test, you give users tasks to complete with your product and follow them as they do so. This process makes it easy to spot any issues or confusion points that arise during the interaction.

Address all such usability issues to prevent driving your potential customers away. Whether it’s slow loading times or complex processes, these errors can cause both your potential and loyal customers to turn into people you never see again.

user centered design principles

6. Don’t overwhelm users

Our next user-centered design principle focuses on minimizing cognitive load. When creating a website design, provide only the necessary information. Too much information can overwhelm users, leading to frustration and a desire to leave or procrastinate.

Businesses drive users away by trying to tell them that we provide everything they need. Don’t make that mistake; keep it as simple as possible. As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

In fact, Miller’s law backs this up by stating that the average person can only hold about seven (plus or minus two) items in their working memory. Imagine bombarding them with 20+ elements on your website all at once. They won’t remember any of it and most likely leave.

To keep your potential customers from running away, cover these two aspects: 

  • Progressive disclosure: present information gradually and reveal details as and when users need them. By doing so, you can keep the user interface clean and simple, allowing users to focus on the task at hand without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Visual hierarchy: present information in a way that guides the user’s eye to where they should focus first. For instance, larger elements draw more attention and are perceived as more important. Your call-to-action buttons should be larger and in a distinctive color to catch instant attention.

Combining these two will help you implement this user-centered design principle effectively. It will ensure you deliver the required information and prompt users to take action without feeling overwhelmed.

7. Empathise with users

When you put yourself in the shoes of your ideal users, you create products that address their real needs.

Consider the problems they face daily. Which features could effectively solve these problems? By thinking this way, you make your ideal customers feel valued and understood.

Empathy maps are useful tools for this, as they clearly visualize users’ thoughts, feelings, actions, and pain points.

Let’s say you conducted user research while designing a fitness-tracking app. Based on the research, you create an empathy map that states an ideal customer deals with the following:

  • Says: I want to stay fit but struggle to find time
  • Thinks: I need a simple way to track my workouts and progress
  • Does: Exercises at home, uses a basic workout log, follows online videos
  • Feels: Frustrated by lack of time, motivated when seeing progress.

So, your ideal customers struggle with limited time, lack of motivation, and inconsistent tracking. What they need are quick workout options, progress tracking, and motivational features.

The design solutions you can come up with based on this are: 

  • Quick and effective workout routines
  • Easy-to-use progress tracking dashboard
  • Reminders and motivational messages
  • Integration with a calendar for scheduling workouts.

These solutions align directly with your ideal users’ struggles. Solving them will help you develop a loyal user base.

Learn more: Empathic Design: Why do We Need It + Examples | UXtweak

8. Design for scalability

Our next user-centered design principle ensures that your product can handle growth effectively. Consider a scenario where you have designed a project management software capable of supporting a team of 100.

But what happens when that team grows to 10,000? Can your software still manage tasks efficiently at that scale? If your product lacks the features necessary for large-scale project management, potential customers will notice.

They will hesitate to invest in a solution they might need to replace as their team expands. The hassle of onboarding new software will drive them toward competitors who are already equipped to handle such growth.

That’s where designing products capable of growing as the demand grows is crucial.

While designing the product, try to ensure the product is: 

  • Functional and responsive as the user base grows
  • Prepared to handle any rapid technological advancements
  • Capable of maintaining optimal performance levels even with high traffic or data volume.

9. Support user autonomy with personalization

Users should be able to customize their experience to better fit their needs and preferences. Keeping the platform too rigid and limiting them will eventually drive them away.

Start with the basics and allow users to modify the interface, such as changing themes, layouts, or arrangement of elements. Next, focus on delivering content that resonates with their interests like personalized recommendations.

Moreover, users are becoming more aware of privacy and security. Ensure you provide settings where they can control their privacy, notification preferences, and other aspects.

Take Spotify, for example. It creates personalized playlists like “daily mix” based on the user’s listening habits.

The home screen is filled with personalized recommendations, recently played songs, and suggestions based on listening history.

spotify-screen, user centered design principles

Source: Freeappsforme

In brief, everything you see on Spotify comes from the user somehow. This is how you inculcate your users’ needs, interests, and preferences based on their past data and personalize the overall experience.

10. Testing with real users

Creating a user-centered design requires evaluating a product by observing how actual users interact with it. This gives you keen insights into the user experience and the hurdles they face as they move further.

The testing uncovers problems designers may not foresee, such as confusing navigation or unclear instructions. It also confirms whether the design assumptions align with the actual user needs.

To implement this user centered design principle, here are some methods you can use: 

  • Usability testing:  users complete specific tasks while observers note difficulties or errors
  • A/B testing: different versions of products are tested with users to see which performs better
  • Surveys and Questionnaires: collecting user feedback through structured questions helps gather quantitative data about their experience
  • Focus groups: group discussions reveal a range of opinions and uncover collective insights into user needs and preferences.

Using these methods to test with real users will help you refine your products to meet the needs of your ideal customers better.

See these testing methods in action:

Try A/B Testing on Prototypes✅

Prototype Testing
Try A/B Testing on Prototypes✅

Try Website Usability Testing🔥

Website Testing
Try Website Usability Testing🔥

11. Iterative design

Don’t sit back and wait until the very end to apply user feedback. Continuous refinement becomes crucial if you want to design products that meet user needs. Every stage of the design process can lead to feedback you can incorporate to improve your product.

That’s an iterative design process where designers continuously improve products based on feedback at various stages. The initial version of the product can use many improvements based on the user’s needs.

Make sure you create prototypes early and often. These can range from low-fidelity wireframes to high-fidelity interactive models, allowing for quick testing and validation of ideas.

Next, be prepared to make changes based on user feedback on your prototypes. The iterative process is inherently flexible, ensuring you can make modifications at any point.

user centered design principles

12. Share Your Research Findings

The last on our list of user-centered design principles focuses on communicating the insights and data collected during user research to stakeholders, team members, and other relevant parties.

This ensures everyone involved in the project understands the user behavior, needs, and pain points, which leads to better design decisions.

Use visual aids such as charts, graphs, infographics, and personas to explain key points in your UX research presentation. Pair this with easy, jargon-free language to ensure even people with no technical background can grasp the insights.

Another key area is to customize the presentation findings based on different audiences. For example, executives might be interested in high-level insights, while designers need more detailed data.

Once you break the data, use storytelling to make it more compelling. Share real users’ stories to humanize the findings and focus on the impact on actual users.

Wrapping Up

Now, you have a list of 12 user-centered design principles that can help you create products that solve actual user problems. But to implement these principles, you need the right tools to assist you. For example, if you want to ensure design consistency on different platforms, UXtweak’s mobile app usability testing tool can help. It extracts screen recordings of your participants’ behavior while using your app.

What makes users quickly leave the platform? Are the features getting too complex? Or is the app loading time too slow? The tool will give you insights that will help improve your app or website design.

Similarly, let’s say you want to implement an iterative design process. A Prototype testing tool can help here by helping you understand how users interact with prototypes.

All-in-one research tool like UXtweak will help you ensure that you follow all the 12 user-centered design principles, by involving them in your design process.

Want to know more about how UXtweak can help make it easier to implement user centered design principles?

Talk to our team or register for a free plan and try it yourself!

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