Introduction to Human Centered Design (HCD)

What is Human Centered Designed?

Human-centred design (HCD) is a problem-solving approach that focuses on the person or user experiencing the problem. It is guided not just by methods and tools, but also by mindsets that help designers to overcome biases, be open to learning and failure, and empathize optimistically to believe there is a solution that can be desirable, feasible and sustainable for your user (or human!).

The HCD process has grown and evolved over the past few decades, but generally follows a similar journey:

The Design Process (Photo Credit:

1. Inspiration/research

At this point, you may have a general sense of your design challenge. It’s called the inspiration phase because what you learn from your target group during this research, (or the “insights” from your humans) are the inspiration for everything, and help you to better define what the actual challenge is from the perspective of who you are solving with. How do you gain insights and inspiration from your humans? Talk to them, interview them, shadow them and really empathize with them to understand not just their thoughts and feelings and experiences around your specific challenge/focus, but their entire ecosystem, their lifestyle, their hopes and dreams.

There is a whole profession of HCD research that guides ideation, we even held a workshop on this recently. Check out the recording, notes and resources from our friends at Dalberg Design here.

2. Ideation/design
This step involves taking what you’ve learned (your “insights”) and synthesizing them, pulling out key themes and brainstorming ways to turn them into something tangible. Once you have landed on your top ideas from the brainstorm, you move on to actually making a quick and easy version (or “prototype”) or your idea.

What does this look like? Maybe your ideation has landed on an app that let’s youth see where the local clinics are where the nurses have been trained on youth-friendly FP counselling and don’t have stock-outs, you can draw out what it could look like, what the screens and flows are; if there is a character that walks them through the app, then what do they look and act like? It doesn’t have to be perfect, it should just be enough so that you can go out and test it with your users. Get feedback, iterate, and test again until you find it’s something that can be put out into the world.

3. Implementation/Testing and scaling
This stage is when you start to think about how your intervention or design can be brought to your humans, and typically run a pilot. This will also help you to consider three guiding principles that HCD prioritizes, which are:

  • Desirability, is it a design that your humans actually want to use;
  • Feasibility, is it a design that is user friendly, is it affordable and accessible, and will it work in the ecosystem; and
  • Sustainability, will this solution last after you have finished your implementation? Do you have the budget to build and maintain it?

Desirability, feasibility, and sustainability all help you to determine if your solution will last in the long-term.