Design Thinking and User-Centered Design: When to Use Each Process - Spring2 Innovation

Design Thinking and User-Centered Design: When to Use Each Process

January 18, 2021

Design Thinking is a process that you go through to identify challenges and create solutions that will actually be adopted by people. In contrast, User-Centred Design is a mindset used to maximize the usability of products to be relevant and beneficial for the people they are intended to serve.

More specifically, while design thinking can be used to create innovative policy, product, and service solutions, user-centred design is primarily used in the development of software and hardware – things people tangibly use.

For a more in-depth look at both processes, check out our previous article on Design Thinking VS User-Centred Design.


When to Use Design Thinking

The design thinking process involves putting yourself in your end-user’s shoes and developing end-user personas that help identify users’ goals, values, challenges, and fears within your solution’s concept. By gaining an in-depth understanding of their clients’ struggles and needs, designers and developers can empathize with their end-users and create solutions that resonate with users.

Focused on empathizing with end-users, design thinking is excellent for innovating government and business policies and processes that impact those who use them. For example, design thinking has the potential to improve problem definition and mechanism design in policymaking processes. By promoting a greater understanding of how citizens experience government services, design thinking can support public managers who desire to enhance public value.

Using an empathetic lens, design thinking is also helpful in sales and marketing. As customers demand a more personalized experience, design thinking methodology can help sales and marketing professionals better understand their target buyers and tailor their tactics to meet their values and needs.

While user-centred design applies to hardware and software development, design thinking is also highly relevant when developing products that solve end-user challenges by allowing product developers to understand better their product users and the functionality they desire.


When to Use User-Centred Design

While still focused on understanding end-user needs through research, user-centred design is most commonly restricted to software and hardware design and development instances.

User-centred design is often practiced in technology development to create user-friendly tech solutions and experiences that align with and meet the product’s needs.

Businesses and governments can adopt user-centred design to help prioritize user experience and mitigate issues around the visibility, legibility, and accessibility of the products they develop to enhance their clients’ encounters with their solutions.


When to Use User-Centred Design and Design Thinking Together

When developing a product or solution, it’s helpful to apply both design thinking and user-centred design methodologies to maximize user experience. For instance, when developing a government or business policy, like that in the example used earlier, design thinking may be used to create a policy solution that meets end-users’ goals and challenges. Simultaneously, user-centred design may be applied to ensure a viable delivery of, and user experience with, the policy created.

At a high-level, it is easy to conclude these terms are very similar; both frameworks aim at ensuring the users’ needs are at the center of the tool created. However, upon closer inspection, the concept of design thinking is broader, with more applications than that of user-centered design. The former focuses on innovation and ideation and is about finding user-focused solutions to develop products, policies, and services to meet user needs. In contrast, the latter applies to the creation of user-focused products or interfaces.

Test Your Knowledge of Design Thinking VS User-Centred Design with This Quiz