Human-Centered Design | RKS Design-Thinking Methodology (2023)

Our thoughts on human-centered design.

Human-Centered design is now a core competency for designers and business stakeholders at every level. As designers, we’ve been practicing this strategy for decades through human-centered design. At the same time many of the most successful companies of our time are human-first, listening obsessively to their customers and proactively improving their lives, and iterating on decisions informed by the voice of the customer.

As a leading design firm the question we’re asked most often is how human-centered design can be applied to organizations, products, or services. This article tries to answer that question. For many designers (certainly for RKS), human-centricity is essential. We have used human-centered design for over 40-years. Now, as design takes its necessary place in the C-suite, in non-profits, and in governments, human-centered design has found an even larger purpose: to inform decisions in our societies at the highest levels creating the conditions for human fulfillment, prosperity, and self-actualization.

What is human-centered design thinking?

Human centered design thinking is a deeply empathetic way to understand consumers and wants and needs. It is a non-linear, iterative process that is driven by empathy and experimentation. It is both a philosophy and methodology that allows designers and business stakeholders to see the signal through the noise, and converge on the right solutions. By taking a human-entered approach, designers and business stakeholders can design for the future, relying on essential human needs and emotions to create products and services that are successful in a dynamic world.

Why is Human-Centered Design so important now?

Originally a tool of designers, human-centered design is now a tool for everyone. Designers and business leaders everywhere are realizing that they need to become human-centered designers to create systems, products, and services that will remain relevant in a rapidly changing world..

(Video) Human-centred design thinking

The main principle of human-centered design is deep empathy for the people you are designing for. As a leader, you must build and manage teams through deep empathy for the people you are leading. Practicing human-centricity makes leaders alike more effective, efficient, and impactful. In the past, products and services have relied on barriers to entry and startup costs to control a competitive advantage. New technologies have chipped away at that strategy. The barriers to designing and creating new products and services are lower than ever, placing a premium on the ability of leaders to use human-centered design.

The rapid change of technology and demographics are making it even more important to use human-centered design thinking. Using design-thinking alone to ideate and prototype high volumes of ideas can certainly create a recipe for some success. However, applying Human-Centered Design Thinking will ensure that a success has staying power, because the success will actually serve the needs of the users. By serving the needs of users, a solution transcends into an emotional connection that increases in strength with each use.

Human-Centered Design | RKS Design-Thinking Methodology (1)
What is a human-centered design process?

Human-Centered Design can be learned, and it can be used to solve any problem. Human centered design-thinking is a deeply empathetic, repeatable, non-linear, design process used to define and solve strategic problems. Like almost anything, Human-Centered design becomes more effective with practice.

Through our decades of experience, we have created Psycho-Aesthetics, a unique human-centered design-thinking process that is learnable and repeatable. We have used it in all of our projects to some extent, and have taught it to hundreds of companies. We also teach it through Harvard Case Studies, a dedicated curriculum at UCLA, USC, and the Savannah College of Art and Design. It has led directly to the creation of thousands of products and services that resonate deeply with users and customers— driving viral engagement and exponential growth.

(Video) DevExplains: What is human-centered design — and why does it matter?

The process has six components, which are designed to be repeatable and iterative.


Research is used to learn about your consumer and user. Research can be primary, actually speaking with and learning from the person, or secondary learning through publications or other research. Research is an essential component of human centered design because it creates a foundation of empathy that will be used later in the process


Transforming research into maps, journeys, personas, opportunities, etc., is critical to setting the stage. If research is our foundation, synthesis is our floor. We like to think of synthesis as the stage and creation as the performance. The visuals are best served when printed poster size or larger and placed into a “war room” in which an immersive environment is created. This evokes higher levels of empathy and facilitates creative immersion sessions that combine the creative team with other disciplines, from engineering to marketing to manufacturing and shipping. Some of the most brilliant ideas come from latent creativity of non-designers who stimulate us with their ideas and insights that are often dormant until brought together in a team setting, surrounded by the P/A tools. The ultimate goal here is to understand the opportunity zone, where we find unmet emotional and rational needs.

Key Attractors

Once the opportunity zone has been identified and the help-me statements have been evaluated the key attractors need to be created. This can be done simply by pulling the pain points gathered from the personas and turn them into considerations to motivate your design. Key attractors are specific design features, touch points, haptics, and emotional responses that engage particular target groups. They provide guidance throughout the design process and can be evaluated against competitive offerings to ensure the creation of unique products and services that successfully differentiate in the market.

(Video) What is Human Centered Design?

Hero’s Journey

The path to creating deep connections with consumers depends on an ability to guide them past hesitation and doubt and into a rich, inviting series of experiences that leave them feeling good about themselves. To achieve this, Psycho- Aesthetics employs our interpretation of the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. The Hero’s Journey is used to frame the process by which consumers bond with the products and experiences they seek out in the marketplace.


Once the Moments of Truth have been established through Synthesis, the process of physically designing can commence. The collective P/A insights that you have gained become the tools you need to make sure you are making a design / experience that is worth being made.


The transformational challenge and experience of creation, design, and innovation from an idea into reality is one of the richest experiences in which all designers immerse themselves. Understanding your P/A frameworks serves as a cross-check mechanism by which concepts themselves can be held up against the P/A and visually measured as to their relevance. The assets of your P/A will drive you toward new relevance and design levels of aesthetics and interaction at a higher level. The effort involved in execution is time-consuming hard work, and having a guide to help you through the tens, hundreds or thousands of decisions that need to be made will serve you well.

Moments of Truth

The final step in designing moments of truth. Moments of truth are deeply human-centered decisions. Although a consumer or user may not have vision, they are seeking acceptance of others. In the case of today’s technology that we carry or wear, we seek to convey empowerment. We’re all looking to be something more tomorrow than we are today…that is the human condition. Moments of Truth are essential to our needs of self-actualization and acceptance.

(Video) What is Design Thinking? - An INTRODUCTION to the HUMAN CENTERED Innovation Approach (2020)

How can I learn Psycho-Aesthetics?

Our methodology is and always has been free. We believe that by giving our methodology to the design and business communities we can do our part in creating a more human-centered and empathetic world. Below you can find links to our different downloads.

(Video) The Difference Between Human Centered Design and Design Thinking · w/ Kate Canales · The Square


What are human-centered design methodologies? ›

Human-centered design is a methodology for devising successful design solutions. According to this methodology, UX designers focus on end-users from the very beginning of product creation and have users testing each iteration of a product. As a result, end-users get a product that satisfies their needs.

What is human-centered design in design thinking? ›

Human-centered design is a problem-solving technique that puts real people at the center of the development process, enabling you to create products and services that resonate and are tailored to your audience's needs.

What are the 5 D's of design thinking? ›

The 5 D's are Discovery, Design, Development, Delivery and Debrief. Anderson introduced the concept and discussed the first two D's in her first installment.

What methods are used in a human-centred design approach 1 point? ›

The three phases of the human-centered design process are inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

What are the 3 phases of human-centered design? ›

Human-centered design and engineering is divided into three fundamental principles – Observation, Ideation, and Implementation.

What is an example of human-centered design? ›

To understand human-centered design better, Airbnb, an accommodation-sharing platform, can be a prime example. The platform has worked to improve its booking functionality by revamping it with a sleeker and smoother user interface.

Why is human center design important? ›

Human-centered design lets you better understand people's needs, motivations, and concerns, but it also makes for a more efficient, more flexible design process. Aim, too, for consistent cross-channel experiences—something of particular importance in hybrid digital˗physical environments.

What are the 4 P's of Design Thinking? ›

These 4P's are: Person: understanding the traits, characteristics or attributes of the creative person; Process: describing the operations or stages of thinking used in the creative process; Press: examining the nature of situations and its context within the creative press (or environment) and the Product: identifying ...

What are the 4 pillars of Design Thinking? ›

Let us recall the four pillars of Design Thinking: Understand by asking people; Explore by finding patterns; Prototype by making tangible; Evaluate by always iterating.

What are the 3 most important elements of design thinking? ›

There are five key elements of the Design Thinking process:
  • Human-centered. If you don't understand the person who will be using the thing you're trying to create, it simply won't work. ...
  • Creative and playful. ...
  • Iterative. ...
  • Collaborative. ...
  • Prototype driven.
2 Nov 2020

What are the 3 most elements of design thinking? ›

The next time you need to solve a problem, you can grow your team's creative capacity by focusing on three core design thinking principles, or the 3 E's: empathy, expansive thinking, and experimentation.

What are the two main principles of human-centered design? ›

Human-centered design is a practice where designers focus on system users' human needs. Cognitive science and usability engineering expert Don Norman sees it as a step above user-centered design. Its four principles are people-centered, solve the right problem, everything is a system and small and simple interventions.

How do you use the human-centered approach? ›

Listening to all stakeholders and understanding their wants and needs—practicing empathy—is the starting point of a human-centered approach to solving business problems. In essence, it's putting people first. An education centered in design strategy instills research methods that reveal how people think and live.

Where is human-centered design used? ›

What is Human-centered Design? It is an approach of problem-solving mostly used in design and management sectors by defining human perspectives in all steps of problem-solving.

What can we learn from human-centered design? ›

Human-centered design typically includes three phases, including: Inspiration: learn directly from the people you're designing for. Ideation: brainstorm and identify opportunities for design, prototype possible solutions. Implementation: bring your solution to life and – eventually – to market.

What is necessary for human-centered design? ›

Inspiration. The goal of human-centered design is to find the right solution for the problem that people experience, and inspiration plays a vital role in this process. Inspiration is learning about people, their needs and wants, and finding problems that you need to solve to make their lives better.

What makes human-centered design unique? ›

Human-centered design is about cultivating deep empathy with the people you're designing with; generating ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you've made together; and eventually, putting your innovative new solution out in the world.

What is the starting point of human-centered design thinking? ›

1. Empathize: The foundational principle of Human-Centered Design is that you should truly understand the people who experience a problem before you design a solution to serve them. Empathy is about understanding the problem by immersing yourself in the community that will be affected by your design.

What is the difference between human-centered design and design thinking? ›

While human-centered design is a process to incorporate user needs and feedback throughout the development process, design thinking combines user needs with the feasibility and viability of creating the product to those specs.

What are the 8 steps of design? ›

Eight Steps in the Design Process
  • Feasibility Study.
  • Programming.
  • Schematic Design.
  • Design Development.
  • Construction Documentation.
  • Bidding and Negotiation.
  • Construction Administration.
  • Post-Occupancy Training.
22 Oct 2021

What are the 5 or 6 stages of design thinking? ›

The Take Away

It brings innovative solutions to life based on how real users think, feel and behave. This human-centered design process consists of five core stages Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

What are the 6 mindsets required for design thinking? ›

To illustrate these themes further, we have broken them down into the following six key steps: frame a question, gather inspiration, generate ideas, make ideas tangible, test to learn, and share the story.

What is the most powerful questions you can ask in design thinking? ›

Design thinking: 7 questions to ask before you start
  • What's the impetus for exploring design thinking? ...
  • How will we define design thinking? ...
  • Can our organization embrace rapid testing, failure, and course correction? ...
  • Will your IT culture support the design thinking mindset?
11 Oct 2018

What is the most important stage in design thinking? ›

The empathy stage is a crucial moment in the design thinking journey, as it helps to uncover the motivations and experiences of an audience that will ultimately be engaging with a designer's product. Without the empathy stage, truly solving a user problem is nearly impossible.

What is the main goal of design thinking strategy? ›

The overall goal is to identify alternative strategies and solutions that are not instantly apparent with your initial level of understanding. Design thinking is more than just a process; it opens up an entirely new way to think, and it offers a collection of hands-on methods to help you apply this new mindset.

What are the 4 design factors? ›

The four resultant product design dimensions are affective, cognitive, ergonomic and reflective.

What are the 6 fundamentals of design? ›

Start with the six principles of design: balance, pattern, rhythm, emphasis, contrast, and unity. Just as instructional design models and methodologies shape your training strategy, so should these principles shape your basic visual strategy. By applying them, you can create high-impact visuals.

What are human-centered design activities? ›

Human-centered design involves people right from the start and places them at the center of the problem-solving design process. HCD focuses on people's problems, goals, needs, thinking, emotions and behavior in order to come up with effective design solutions to those problems.

Is human-centered design agile? ›

HCD thinking and methods are integrated into everything, not isolated in pockets or silos. They start delivering like never before. They are beginning to practice what we have come to call “Human-Centered Agile.”

What is human user centered design? ›

Human-Centered or User-Centered Design is also a process that focuses on the users and their needs in every phase of the design process. The goal is to create a highly usable and desirable product or service for the user.

How do you apply human-centred design? ›

The human-centred design process begins with empathy for the people we are designing for.
The process:
  1. generates a wide variety of ideas.
  2. translates some of these ideas into prototypes.
  3. shares these prototypes with the people we're designing for to gather feedback.
  4. builds the chosen solution direction for release.
30 Jun 2020

Is human-centered design a framework? ›

Human-centered design (HCD) is a design framework for creating products, services, hardware and software that are built to meet the specific needs of clients, users or customers.

Is human center design the same as design thinking? ›

While human-centered design is a process to incorporate user needs and feedback throughout the development process, design thinking combines user needs with the feasibility and viability of creating the product to those specs.

What is the meaning of human-centered? ›

One must truly place themself into the experience of others in order to solve the problems they encounter. This means speaking directly with the people using what you've designed and observing their behavior to understand how and why they are having the problem.


1. Principles of Human-Centered Design (Don Norman)
2. Human Centred Design, Design Thinking, and Community Change
(The Tamarack Institute)
3. Human-Centered Design Thinking Approach to Survey Development and Use with Sheila Robinson
(James Pann)
4. What is Human-Centered Design?
(Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF)
5. What is Human-Centred Design / Design Thinking?
(Liz Moffatt)
6. Impacting through human centered design | Evan Fried | TEDxMSU
(TEDx Talks)
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