User-Centered Design vs. Human-Centered Design: Which Approach is Right for You?

A Competitive Market Requires Creative Design

In today’s uber-competitive world, consumers have an abundance of products to choose from. It’s an incredible challenge for product designers to create something brand new, completely unique, that has never been done before.

However, some designers have begun to adopt user-centered design (UCD) and human-centered design (HCD) to give them a better chance of creating meaningful products.

In this article, you’ll learn about both, how they can benefit your design processes, and which might be best for your work.

What is User-Centered Design?

User-centered design focuses on understanding the goals, preferences, wants, and needs of your target users. This data is captured through market research and is used to formulate product ideas and improve design iterations. 

Usually, UCD follows an iterative process, seeking the feedback of end-users through multiple prototype and design stages.

What is Human-Centered Design?

Human-centered design moves beyond individual needs and considers how a product can impact society and the environment.

This broader approach uses empathy, inclusivity, and ethical considerations to create products that are widely appealing to a vast audience rather than pinpointing a specific niche demographic.

What are the Key Differences Between UCD and HCD?


User-centered design targets the needs of individual users or a niche market. Alternatively, human-centered design is focused on impacting society and the environment as a whole.


User research and data drive UCD decision-making, whereas empathy is the core factor pushing HCD.


User-centered design is on a mission to help individuals solve a specific challenge, while HCD takes a broader scope, aiming to help overcome societal issues.

How to Choose the Right Approach

Deciding whether you should opt for UCD or HCD varies from project to project and business to business. However, there are a few guiding factors that can help you decide which is best for you.

Project Goals & Objectives

As mentioned above, UCD and HCD have different objectives and goals. So, ask yourself what your new product or service is trying to achieve.

If you have a highly specific target market in mind, then you have to go with UCD. Alternatively, if you’re challenging yourself to overcome a particular societal challenge or to have a massive impact on the environment, then HCD is the way to go. 

Target Audience

Do you know who you’re designing for? If not, then you have to do some research. For HCD and UCD, you should be conducting initial market research to guide your project. Once you understand your audience, you can decide whether your work is more tailored to individuals or a mass-market societal solution.

Potential Impact

Are you concerned your new product idea might have a negative impact on the environment or society? It could be more ethical to take an HCD approach. This will allow you to take a more empathetic and broad standpoint rather than being blinkered to a niche. 

Balancing Everything

Ok, so choosing between HCD and UCD can be crucial. However, it’s a balancing act, and you’ll likely see yourself using a bit of both. If you’re going to create successful products, you have to factor in user needs, business goals, and ethical considerations with every design process.

Case Studies: UCD vs. HCD in Action

User-Centered Design Examples 

Apple is a UCD pioneer, with the iPhone being the greatest example. The company conducted extensive user research to understand the challenges their target audience faced and what they needed. From there, they used the gathered information to create a product that ticked all the right boxes.

Human-Centered Design Examples

Believe it or not, an entire city is a great example of HCD. Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, uses a HCD approach to urban planning, including initiatives such as bike lanes and pedestrianized streets. This approach is designed to improve the quality of life for all Copenhagen inhabitants.

In Summary

Both UCD and HCD are invaluable approaches to design that are used to create successful products and experiences. Overall, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement and decide one is better than the other. There will be scenarios where human-centered design prevails and times when user-centered design is the best option.

However, now you know the key differences between the two, you’ll be able to make an informed assessment and choose the best design process for your project.

As the world and technology continue to evolve, we’ll continue to see some incredible examples of both UCD and HCD in action. Currently, AI is beginning to have a drastic impact from a HCD perspective, and we’re already seeing AI tools being launched that are taking a UCD approach.

If you have a project in mind but can’t decide if you want to take a HCD or UCD approach, we’d love to hear from you. Together, we can create incredible products, so get in touch today.

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