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What’s the Difference Between Human-Centered Design and User Experience Design

 

Physiology and psychology are two important considerations when it comes to technology design. Although all users may have common physiological and psychological traits, slight individual differences still exist between each of them. Depending on whether they want to focus on the common traits or individual differences, designers can adopt one of two design paradigms: human-centered design or user experience design.

What is Human-Centered Design?

Human-Centered mobile Design

Image source: 9To5Mac

During the human-centered design process, designers implement the most general design trends and attempt to create a product interface that appeals to as many audiences as possible. For example, if you’ve noticed recently, an increasing number of apps and websites have started offering “dark mode” on their platforms. The reason is that the human brain becomes wide awake when exposed to light, whether artificial or natural, and this merely disrupts their wake-sleep cycle which is known as the “circadian rhythm”.

Many users that use apps and websites late at night find themselves wide awake and unable to sleep properly due to bright light disrupting their circadian rhythm, a strong physiological response to lightness and darkness. Dark mode allows them to lower the contrast and dim the lights, therefore helping them with their sleep. Simply put, dark mode is an acknowledgment of the circadian rhythm that allows all users who wish to use it have a better user experience.

Without dark mode, great design becomes a great flaw as users are constantly on their mobile phones using apps and websites. They may experience frustration when they find themselves unable to sleep afterward, and this can lead to them blaming it on the app or website, which would be partly true if they hadn’t implemented dark mode.

By considering the human perspective and how design impacts users on a psychological level, designers are essentially provided a framework for their creativity and a way to streamline their creative process. Hence, we can conclude that human-centered design basically considers general human traits before any other factor.

Human-Centered Design process

The large sample size is the most important factor to consider within the human-centered design process. What does the majority of users want? And if there was any single feature that would appeal to the largest number of users, what would it be?

If the human-centered design process is executed properly, it can result in the greater adoption of the app or website, meaning that there will be more users wanting to use it. Even better, it can also result in users wanting to share their positive user experience with their friends and family which can help drive more traffic to your app or site. Once its effectiveness is realized and made popular, the feature can become adopted by other apps and websites that are hoping to attract more users.

What is User Experience Design

During the user-centered design process, designers focus on staying in touch with the target audiences and constantly getting feedback from them on what the ideal product interface should look like. Instead of implementing general design trends, the user-centered design process implements very narrow, specific, and highly researched ones in order to optimize platforms. For example, instead of dark mode, user-centered design would introduce a “bright mode”, a high-contrast mode that helps users with poor vision.

For users with poor vision, being able to distinguish between fine details would be nearly impossible no matter what the brightness level is, and this is where bright mode comes in to play an impactful role in enhancing their visual experience on various digital platforms.

Though the vast majority of users would not need bright mode, a very small subset of them would greatly appreciate it. In fact, it is likely that they would be unable to use the app or website without the bright mode switched on. Therefore, anything that helps usability is a product of user-centered design. Despite it not being needed by every single user, being attentive to user-centered design can take your app or website to the next level as it’ll be able to cater to more people.

Another great example of this is that of Facebook’s error messages. Facebook basically introduced error messages that are friendly to colorblind users. Prior to this, any invalid information during the process of filling out the account information form would be marked with a thin red line that is visible to colorblind users. However, because it did not stand out as much as Facebook intended it be, this caused frustration in many of these users.

To fix this issue, Facebook implemented a feature that marked each of the offending fields with a red circle that had a white exclamation mark within it, resembling the “critical error” messages that are seen in many operating systems. Clicking the error icon would lead to the display of information that states how users can fix the error, or in other words, which type of information is missing within the form.

By introducing error messages, colorblind users are provided with better and more detailed information about errors and how they can fix them which helps prevent the negative experiences that they once had. Therefore, from the examples mentioned, we can conclude that user-centered design considers specific traits of the target audience, rather than general traits, before anything else.

User Experience Design Process

User Experience Design Process

In-depth research is the key to a successful interface and overall user-centered design process. What does any given minority of users want, and how is their usability of the product hindered by the absence of any given feature?

Thorough research leads to clearer insights and understanding of what specific users need, and how the app can better cater to them. This can ultimately result in a greater diversity of features that indirectly leads to user retention. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand why – if Facebook is the only social media that caters to colorblind users, then it is likely that these types of users will stick to this platform.

Difference Between Human-Centered Design and User Experience Design

Both human-centered and user experience design are approaches to help users interface with digital technology in a more complete and comprehensible way. However, where they differ is in the scale of their audience. Human-centered design adopts a large-scale approach meant to target as many users as possible while user experience design goes narrow and deep, focusing on a small subset of the user base.

Naturally, not all designs will be possible under both paradigms. Designers with more funds and larger user base will be able to make many more tweaks to their design than those who don’t. They’ll also be able to receive immediate user feedback that allows for more refined features belonging to the user experience paradigm. Typically, startup or garage companies typically have to squelch fires of user discontent by rolling out as many general features as possible, meaning that they will lack user base and feedback. Thus, they’ll most likely be focusing on human-centered design.

As a product matures, the user interface tends to become more and more complex, simply because the work previously done by 1-2 designers is now executed by 100-200. The larger funds and budget given towards this process will enable these designers to transform their creativity into reality. This can and often does result in what’s known as “feature creep”, which is defined as an over-complication of design.

Ultimately, all technological features start from a simple human-centered design process. If more funds and data become available, this process will mature into an overly complex user experience design process.

No matter what type of digital platform or product you have, there will always be a constant need to innovate and renovate its features to maintain that delicate balance between human-centered design and user experience design. Otherwise, it will be unable to grow or retain users, and this can become a setback towards your overall business.

What’s the Difference Between Human-Centered Design and User Experience Design

Physiology and psychology are two important considerations when it comes to technology design. Although all users may have common physiological and psychological traits, slight individual differences still exist between each of them. Depending on whether they want to focus on the common traits or individual differences, designers can adopt one of two design paradigms: human-centered design or user experience design.

What is Human-Centered Design?

Image source: 9To5Mac

During the human-centered design process, designers implement the most general design trends and attempt to create a product interface that appeals to as many audiences as possible. For example, if you’ve noticed recently, an increasing number of apps and websites have started offering “dark mode” on their platforms. The reason is that the human brain becomes wide awake when exposed to light, whether artificial or natural, and this merely disrupts their wake-sleep cycle which is known as the “circadian rhythm”.

Many users that use apps and websites late at night find themselves wide awake and unable to sleep properly due to bright light disrupting their circadian rhythm, a strong physiological response to lightness and darkness. Dark mode allows them to lower the contrast and dim the lights, therefore helping them with their sleep. Simply put, dark mode is an acknowledgment of the circadian rhythm that allows all users who wish to use it have a better user experience.

Without dark mode, great design becomes a great flaw as users are constantly on their mobile phones using apps and websites. They may experience frustration when they find themselves unable to sleep afterward, and this can lead to them blaming it on the app or website, which would be partly true if they hadn’t implemented dark mode.

By considering the human perspective and how design impacts users on a psychological level, designers are essentially provided a framework for their creativity and a way to streamline their creative process. Hence, we can conclude that human-centered design basically considers general human traits before any other factor.

Human-Centered Design process

The large sample size is the most important factor to consider within the human-centered design process. What does the majority of users want? And if there was any single feature that would appeal to the largest number of users, what would it be?

If the human-centered design process is executed properly, it can result in the greater adoption of the app or website, meaning that there will be more users wanting to use it. Even better, it can also result in users wanting to share their positive user experience with their friends and family which can help drive more traffic to your app or site. Once its effectiveness is realized and made popular, the feature can become adopted by other apps and websites that are hoping to attract more users.

What is User Experience Design

During the user-centered design process, designers focus on staying in touch with the target audiences and constantly getting feedback from them on what the ideal product interface should look like. Instead of implementing general design trends, the user-centered design process implements very narrow, specific, and highly researched ones in order to optimize platforms. For example, instead of dark mode, user-centered design would introduce a “bright mode”, a high-contrast mode that helps users with poor vision.

For users with poor vision, being able to distinguish between fine details would be nearly impossible no matter what the brightness level is, and this is where bright mode comes in to play an impactful role in enhancing their visual experience on various digital platforms.

Though the vast majority of users would not need bright mode, a very small subset of them would greatly appreciate it. In fact, it is likely that they would be unable to use the app or website without the bright mode switched on. Therefore, anything that helps usability is a product of user-centered design. Despite it not being needed by every single user, being attentive to user-centered design can take your app or website to the next level as it’ll be able to cater to more people.

Another great example of this is that of Facebook’s error messages. Facebook basically introduced error messages that are friendly to colorblind users. Prior to this, any invalid information during the process of filling out the account information form would be marked with a thin red line that is visible to colorblind users. However, because it did not stand out as much as Facebook intended it be, this caused frustration in many of these users.

To fix this issue, Facebook implemented a feature that marked each of the offending fields with a red circle that had a white exclamation mark within it, resembling the “critical error” messages that are seen in many operating systems. Clicking the error icon would lead to the display of information that states how users can fix the error, or in other words, which type of information is missing within the form.

By introducing error messages, colorblind users are provided with better and more detailed information about errors and how they can fix them which helps prevent the negative experiences that they once had. Therefore, from the examples mentioned, we can conclude that user-centered design considers specific traits of the target audience, rather than general traits, before anything else.

User Experience Design Process

In-depth research is the key to a successful interface and overall user-centered design process. What does any given minority of users want, and how is their usability of the product hindered by the absence of any given feature?

Thorough research leads to clearer insights and understanding of what specific users need, and how the app can better cater to them. This can ultimately result in a greater diversity of features that indirectly leads to user retention. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand why – if Facebook is the only social media that caters to colorblind users, then it is likely that these types of users will stick to this platform.

Difference Between Human-Centered Design and User Experience Design

Both human-centered and user experience design are approaches to help users interface with digital technology in a more complete and comprehensible way. However, where they differ is in the scale of their audience. Human-centered design adopts a large-scale approach meant to target as many users as possible while user experience design goes narrow and deep, focusing on a small subset of the user base.

Naturally, not all designs will be possible under both paradigms. Designers with more funds and larger user base will be able to make many more tweaks to their design than those who don’t. They’ll also be able to receive immediate user feedback that allows for more refined features belonging to the user experience paradigm. Typically, startup or garage companies typically have to squelch fires of user discontent by rolling out as many general features as possible, meaning that they will lack user base and feedback. Thus, they’ll most likely be focusing on human-centered design.

As a product matures, the user interface tends to become more and more complex, simply because the work previously done by 1-2 designers is now executed by 100-200. The larger funds and budget given towards this process will enable these designers to transform their creativity into reality. This can and often does result in what’s known as “feature creep”, which is defined as an over-complication of design.

Ultimately, all technological features start from a simple human-centered design process. If more funds and data become available, this process will mature into an overly complex user experience design process.

No matter what type of digital platform or product you have, there will always be a constant need to innovate and renovate its features to maintain that delicate balance between human-centered design and user experience design. Otherwise, it will be unable to grow or retain users, and this can become a setback towards your overall business.

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Written by Christiaan

Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world's largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.

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