What is Human Centered Design for Digital Products?

Kyle Miller
"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

A product is successful when it’s created to satisfy the needs of end users. Understanding the people you’re creating a product for will ensure it’s adopted and embraced.

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving. It’s a methodology that can be applied throughout your process and focuses your inspiration, solutions, and implementation on your end user. Human-centered design zeros in on who you’re creating a product for and the problem you’re solving.

This methodology may seem at odds with business goals, however understanding the people you’re trying to reach will save time and mitigate risk. Staying grounded in the desires of the people you’re designing for sets up your idea for success. The end goal of any mobile app, software, or website is to be useful to the people it’s created for.

At the core of every successful product is a human-centered design process.

A Human-Centered Design Process

Human-centered design puts the user at the center throughout the product development and implementation process. It uses human psychology and analysis to create solutions informed by the specific needs of your user. By asking the right questions, testing, and creating real-life scenarios we can take the guesswork out of creating products that people will actually use.


Empathy is the key element in human-centered design, requiring your team to immerse themselves in the perspective of the user. Desktop research will only get you so far. Real insights emerge from interviews and conversations, giving teams in-depth insights into people’s nuanced experiences.

Posing targeted questions will get you in the right mindset and form better solutions faster. For example, asking “what problem does this solve?” generates much different answers than asking “How does this product solve a problem in my life?”

Understanding the people you’re trying to connect to ensures solutions that people will actually use.

A Culture of Creativity and Collaboration

Cultivating creativity and collaboration across disciplines empowers teams to take ownership in developing innovative products. Encouraging the sharing of feedback and insights allows people to get to clarification on ideas and innovative solutions faster.

Applying human-centered design to your process means everyone on your team is a designer—every programmer, designer, project manager, client, and team member. The word “Design” may conjure up the look and feel of a product. But human-centered design goes further by considering the user across touchpoints—from a user’s interaction with a products’ interface to its features and functionalities.

Development and Design Are Not Separate

Overcoming the mindset that software development and design are separate will be vital to the success of a human-centered design model. It’s important to invite and cultivate creative thinking in everyone who impacts your product. At The Development Factory, we’re committed to empowering team members to be design-minded by inviting feedback—which keeps the user in mind—at every stage of the process no matter your official title.

For those team members focused on client relationships and day to day operations, it’s easy to become disconnected from the people you’re creating a product for. It’s important to empower team members to remind each other that they’re designing for humans. This will help everyone design products, systems, and experiences that keep your user top of mind.

Human-centered design informs every step of a product’s development, thus everyone involved should be focusing their goals on the needs of the user.

So everyone from engineers with their performance focused goals, to designers, with their ability to visually delight, can implement human-centered design practices. Ultimately it’s about striking a balance to create the best possible product built with the user in mind.

Rapid Prototyping and User Feedback

Building a simple prototype allows for testing, validation, and most importantly takes the guesswork out of development. Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) can help you test hypotheses and get critical customer feedback for future development.

User testing can validate questions like “does this product solve a problem?” and “is this product actually usable?” Getting a prototype into early users hands will get you to solutions rooted in real people’s experiences.

The worst case scenario for a product is not a client finding a bug or beta testers finding an error. The worst possible situation is if an end user is interrupted during their user-experience.

Every interaction is an opportunity to keep a user engaged or lose them. A significant error in a user’s experience could get them to close your site or delete your mobile app, moving them along to your competitor.

By understanding who you’re creating a product for your ideas will evolve into sound solutions ready for implementation.

The Human-Centered Development Factory

At The Development Factory, we believe business goals and technology goals are human-centered goals. From the idea to launch, people are at the center of our process.

Let’s look at the human-centered design example in which we helped Dr. Tony Greco revolutionize the way people find treatment for addiction. While helping a friend recover from addiction, Dr. Greco struggled to find resources for his friend. This sparked an idea for Dr. Greco. What if he could make finding addiction treatment faster? Determined to bring his big idea to life, he reached out to his network which led him to us at The Development Factory.

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We began with client research right away by conducting customer interviews. This allowed us to better understand the problem and the ideal solution from the user’s perspective. With comprehensive research in hand, The Development Factory created a full product roadmap.

Recently Tony, along with Los Angeles city leaders, presented the Get Help LA app. Aimed at giving the general public the tools to refer people who are homeless to services, it uses geo-coding to show hospitals, addiction care centers, sexual assault resources, shelters, and other resources nearby.

Without any previous technology or product development background, we helped transform Dr. Greco from being a doctor helping a friend, to the CEO of a company that changed the way people with addiction find help. And we did it by asking real people the right questions.

We believe putting people at the center of design can build strong teams, create groundbreaking services, and innovative products. Dr. Greco said it best:

“The Development Factory don’t just develop products. They develop a company. They have really become like family. Entrepreneurship is a lonely road. And I’ve outsourced a co-founder and a partner. They’ve been there to catch all of that for me. Investor meetings. Interviews. You name it.”

—Tony Greco

Human-centered design can have a positive impact on every aspect of your company. Companies that orient their goals based on their user see greater financial gains, positive changes in the way teams operate, and less short-sighted decisions. As human-centered products come into focus so does the bigger picture.

At the heart of any successful product is excellent human-centered design.

If you want to talk more about creating incredible user experience book a free consultation with one of our founders.

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