Human-Centered
Software Design

Tools and techniques for understanding your users and solving their problems

Getting Started

This toolkit will provide your team with an introduction to human-centered software principles.

A toolkit for everyone

Learning human-centered practices is beneficial to all roles in software delivery. These techniques can be used by product managers, scrum masters, designers, engineers or anyone else looking to gain a better understanding of their users and improve the efficacy of their products.

You'll learn how to:
  • Establish a co-creative partnership with your users
  • Understand and empathize with their needs and challenges
  • Explore solutions and create concepts to address these challenges
  • Make concepts tangible through rapid prototyping
  • Test those concepts with real users
Product designers use affinity mapping to organize and understand observations from user research

Human Centered Software 101

The Digital Experience Center team leads a day-long intensive workshop providing hands-on instruction on how you can bring a human-centered approach to your team. To sign up or learn more please contact the DEC design team.

Discover

discover

Talk to people

The simplest way to start understanding the needs of the people who use your products is to talk with them. Interviews are an easy and effective way to gain insight in to what you should build and how people might use it.

Interviewing users and stakeholders

What

Interviews with business sponsors, users, or anyone else who has an investment or interest a product’s success.

Why

Understanding the perspectives of your stakeholders is critical to building successful products. Interviews are an easy and effective way to gain this understanding.

Supplies
  • Permanent markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Notepad
  • laptop (optional)
Time required
  • 1-2 hours per interviewee

How to do it

  1. Before you conduct an interview, create an interview guide of topics and questions you’d like to ask. This guide will keep your conversation on track.

    

Possible points of discussion during an interview include biographic information, business and personal goals, pain points, or metrics for success of the product. Include any topics that can help you build empathy for the person and how they might relate to your product.
  2. You can perform an interview one-on-one with the participant. But, if possible, include another person to act as the note taker. This way one person can focus on the conversation while the other person takes notes.
  3. During the interview, let the person you’re interviewing do most of the talking. Allow them to speak freely, but be sure to ask probing questions if they touch upon something that is interesting. Use your interview guide to make sure you cover what you need to.

    Follow-up with questions like “Why is that?” or “How do you do that?”. This can reveal details that lead to a better understanding of the person and the problem.
  4. After the interview assess what you learned as soon as possible, while the information is still fresh in your mind. Make note of common themes, and consider how what you’ve learned can shape your product.

Understand

understand

Turn observations into insights

Organizing insights from interviews or other research helps us make sense of data. Affinity diagramming is one tool that can be used to organize ideas, quotes, or observations into patterns and themes, and determine actionable next steps.

Affinity diagramming

What

A way to organize ideas, quotes, or observations made during a user interview or other type of qualitative research.

Why

This organization of ideas enables the team to quickly make sense of qualitative data, draw insights, and determine actionable next steps.

Supplies
  • Permanent markers
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Whiteboard
Time required
  • 1 hour

How to do it

  1. Record ideas, quotes, or observations from interviews, or other sources of research on sticky notes.
  2. Place the sticky notes on a white board (in no particular order). Move the sticky notes around to organize them in to meaningful categories.
  3. Use white board markers to write notes, titles or labels for each group.
  4. The team discusses the observations and insights. You can do affinity diagramming with one person but you can get more perspectives from a small team.
  5. Summarize the most important themes with a statement written from the perspective of the user. This can help guide your design of a solution to the problem identified by the team.

Additional Resources

An explanation of what affinity diagramming is and how to do it.

The Usability Body of Knowledge, a product of the User Experience Professionals' Association.

An explanation of affinity diagramming.

Information and Design.

Explore

explore

Explore Solutions

Quickly generate many ideas and potential solutions through sketching, iteration, and critique. Design studio is a fast-paced, co-creation technique meant to expose possible solutions and determine their feasibility, helping to prioritize further exploration.

Design studio

What

An illustration-based way to come up with ideas and quickly explore a wide range of potential solutions to a problem.

Why

To create a shared understanding of design problems confronting the product team.

Supplies
  • Permanent markers
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Whiteboard
  • Craft paper
  • Letter size paper
Time required
  • 3-4 hours

How to do it

  1. Invite a diverse group of 8-12 participants. The group should include stakeholders, engineers, designers, product managers, and any other team members who need to build a shared understanding.
  2. Review the problem statement and research.
  3. Distribute drawing materials, nothing fancy, just some permanent markers and plain white paper. Ask participants to individually sketch concepts that address the problem. We suggest starting with 5-8 sketches in 5 minutes.
  4. Have participants present their ideas to one another in groups of three or four.
  5. After each person presents, their team should critique the ideas. The criticism should be focused on what aspects best solve the problem for the user.
  6. Repeat the sketching phase this time combining and remixing the best ideas from the first round. Follow this with another round of pitching and critiques.
  7. Use dot-voting and a final round of sketching to create a design that combines the best aspects of members’ individual contributions. This round of sketching can take a little longer, up to 30 minutes.
  8. Regroup as a whole. Have each group present their ideas to everyone. Discuss.
  9. After the meeting, note areas of consistent agreement or disagreement. Next step is to create one or multiple prototypes to start getting ideas into users’ hands.

Make

make

Make concepts tangible

One way to make your concepts tangible is to build a prototype. Protoypes are often a lightweight representation of a solution used to test a hypothesis. This allows you to gather feedback from your users that can inform future iterations.

Prototyping

What

A rudimentary version, either static or functional, of a software product.

Why

To enable direct interaction with a product to facilitate usability testing and gather feedback.

Supplies
  • Permanent markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Letter size paper
  • Scissors
  • Prototyping Software
  • HTML
Time required
  • 8 hours

How to do it

  1. Create a rudimentary version of your product. It can be a simple paper prototype, something more high-fidelity created in prototyping software, or a prototype can be created in code.

    The level of fidelity and complexity can be determined by what you need to learn, how much time you have, and the intended audience.
  2. Give the prototype to a user and present them with scenarios for using the product. Observe their interaction as they try to accomplish tasks.
  3. Ask clarifying questions about why they do what they do. Let the user's behavior guide the questions you ask. Ask them to speak their thoughts out loud as they use the prototype so you can understand their thought process.
  4. Iterate! Prototypes should be quick and painless to create, and even more quick and painless to discard.

Validate

validate

Get hands-on feedback

Conducting regular usability tests ensures that people remain central to the design process. Observing a person using your product can provide valuable insight into whether or not it’s solving the problem it’s intended to solve.

Usability testing

What

Observation of people using your product to complete a task.

Why

To learn where a design needs improvement, what it’s doing well, and to identify opportunities for future development.

Supplies
  • Permanent markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Notepad
  • laptop
Time required
  • 30 minutes - 1 hour per person

How to do it

  1. Create a prototype of your product that clearly conveys the features that will be tested. You can also test with working software.
  2. It’s ideal to have a team of 2 people. On person takes notes while the other focuses on the conversation.
  3. Give the prototype to a user and present them with scenarios for using the product. Observe their interaction as they try to accomplish tasks.
  4. Ask clarifying questions about why they do what they do. Let the user's behavior guide the questions you ask. Ask them to speak their thoughts out loud as they use the prototype so you can understand their thought process.
  5. Observe the user's attempt to complete the task, looking for areas where they struggled or questions they asked. Gather notes on observations and direct quotes.
  6. If there are additional teammates or stakeholders that need to observe set up remote observation. Too many people in the room can overwhelm the user.
  7. After the sessions gather all observers together to organize your findings. Compare notes while they are fresh on your mind and use affinity diagramming to visually organize observations and insights.

Additional Resources

An explanation of summative usability testing and how to conduct evaluations using this method.

The Usability Body of Knowledge, a product of the User Experience Professionals' Association.

Learn how to use these techniques in your work

Sign up for Human Centered Software 101

The Digital Experience Center team leads a day-long intensive workshop providing hands-on instruction on how you can bring a human-centered approach to your team. To sign up or learn more please contact the DEC design team.