The 5 Key Phases Involved in Conducting Human-Centred Design (HCD) Research

The 5 Key Phases Involved in Conducting Human-Centred Design (HCD) Research

Are you finding it difficult to sell your products or services and can’t figure out the reason why? It might be due to your marketing efforts, but it could also be due to the product or service itself. If your potential users don’t view what you offer as a suitable solution for their problems, they’re likely not to make a purchase. You need to be conscious of your end user while you’re designing your product or service.

Apart from knowing who your users are, you need to know what problems they need solutions to and how they experience your product or service. That’s what human-centred design (HCD) does. HCD allows you to empathise with your users so that you can create better products that specifically meet their needs or desires, and solve their problems.

Human-centred design (HCD) is the process of addressing the needs of your users and other relevant stakeholders by designing your products, services, and systems in a way that resonates with them and addresses their challenges. The process needs to be fluid in order to achieve your end goal of solving the problem in a way that best suits the people. 

This non-linear, iterative process is achieved through the following five key phases:

1. Empathise

The first stage in the design process is to understand the problem and its causes from the perspective of the people facing it. That’s why it's essential to deeply immerse yourself in the community and empathise with them. 

By engaging with them and asking the right questions, you’ll be one step closer to creating a solution that makes a real impact.

  • Consider who your stakeholders are - This will help you contextualise your research and understand why you need to come up with a solution. They could be your customers, users, employees, vendors and more.
  • Build a rapport with your subject - For you to get the most out of your research, you need to make sure your subjects are comfortable. When you’re friendly and approachable, people are more likely to trust you and open up about their needs, desires, and challenges. 
  • Ask the right questions - Good questions guide the research process and help you get to the heart of the problem. Your goal is to understand your users and their experience so you should ask open-ended questions that are relevant to your project goals. For example:
  • What do they like and dislike about the product or service?
  • What emotions do they feel about their current situation?
  • What factors are important to them when it comes to solving their problems?
  • Where do they go when looking for information or guidance on this topic?

The information you gather here will help you gain a better understanding of the problem. It’ll also help you come up with an array of potential solutions that will serve as a reference point for you and your team. This will ensure you’re addressing all aspects of the problem.

2. Define

Next, you’ll organise and analyse all the information you collected in the previous stage. The goal here is to define the problem you’re trying to solve, for whom and why. This means that you need to consider:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who is this problem affecting?
  • Why do they need our assistance?
  • What will happen if we don't solve this problem for them?

By answering these questions, you'll have established a clear picture of what needs fixing and for whom. You'll also have identified some potential solutions that would be effective in addressing this particular issue.

3. Ideate

Now that you’ve established a solid background in the first two stages, you can now view the problem from different perspectives. 

  • Brainstorming solutions: Gather a group and have the participants generate as many potential ideas as possible. The goal is to generate lots of ideas that are judgement and criticism free. This will encourage the participants not to hold back and feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
  • Filtering the solutions: After you’ve come up with an extensive list of possible solutions, you’ll need to refine them into a workable number. This will help you narrow it down to the potential solutions that are most viable.

4. Prototype

This is a fundamental stage of the design process. It helps you refine your product and validate it with users early in the development cycle. It can take many forms - from interactive screen mockups to storyboards or sketches. The point is to create a representation that’ll allow you to test your idea in action. 

Creating interactive mockups that represent the solution will allow you to test your assumptions about how people will use your product or service. It’ll also point out any problems that may occur while they use it. 

  • Sketch out ideas for the potential solutions you identified. These can be wireframes or prototypes
  • Choose the design elements that are most important for gathering information from your users. Such as text fields, buttons, drop-down menus, etc.
  • Test if these elements are easy enough to use without someone having too much context on how to use the product or service.

5. Test

Testing the prototype amongst your target users is the best way to learn how they’ll use your product or service. Additionally, it helps you gain feedback on whether or not the solution meets their needs. This test needs to be unbiased. As such you shouldn’t explain or defend your solutions to the user. 

Get participants who face the problem to test your solutions multiple times. Each time they try it, record their feedback - their thoughts, feelings, and challenges. This will help you identify any flaws, weaknesses, and gaps in the design that’ll allow you to refine the solution.

Human-centred design (HCD) is a great method to employ because it allows companies to learn from their customers so they can create products, services, and systems tailored to them and their needs. 

Are you interested in understanding the pain points your customers experience while using your products, services, or systems, or in innovating your current solutions? Reach out to us via email at and we’ll co-create better experiences for them.