What does it mean for design to be user-centered?

Diagram with the steps below in a circle with arrows pointing from one step to the next

Design across many disciplines has always been user-centered. You wouldn’t design a billboard or newspaper layout without thinking about the needs of a user, or create a floorplan for a building without thinking about the people who would use the building. So why do we need a distinction for user-centered design?

User-centered design means more than just considering your users. It means implementing a process in which user needs, behaviors, and feedback are researched and utilized to create and/or improve the product, from the beginning to the end of the product life-cycle.

User-centered design is a process that is oriented around: Audience awareness. Who are your users, what are their characteristics, and what devices are they using to connect to your product? These questions are posed throughout the design process, and they are answered through user research and market research. Consensus on the characteristics of the target audiences is shared across the entire team and used to inform all design decisions.

Scenarios for use. What are the possible motivations and use-cases that will drive someone to use this product? Which use-cases are the most common? Which are the most important for the business? What is the environment in which the product is used? How much time will each interaction take? These questions are asked repeatedly throughout the design process, and they are answered via user research.

User-feedback. The process requires getting real feedback from the users, both quantitative and qualitative. This feedback is sought from the beginning of the brainstorming process and continues to be sought and used to inform changes after the product has launched.

Iteration. Iteration means that the user-centered design process approaches its goals through repeated incremental changes. Within this design philosophy, it is seen as impossible and counterproductive to attempt to anticipate every single user need, and build the perfect product the first time. Instead, the user-centered design process is based on continuous iteration based on the real behaviors and feedback from your users.

User-centered design uses all of the tools of visual design, such as color theory, typography, imagery, whitespace, etc. to create products that are finely calibrated to efficiently meet the specified user needs.