May 6, 2022

Your Guide to HCD, UX Design, and Related Disciplines.

Hands of young contemporary office manager over laptop keypad during work over new business project by table


If you’ve ever had to ask yourself, “What the HECK is human-centered design?”, or “Why on earth should I invest in UX design?” this blog post will be the perfect guide to get you from that sticky place of confusion to clarity! Human-centered design is an incredibly broad and multi-faceted discipline that encompasses many different branches of knowledge (see diagram below). A simple one-sentence definition won’t even begin to cover it, so we’re going to go deep! Not only will we be providing a bare-bones explanation of HCD and UX design, we are also going to break down a ton of related disciplines like UI design, design research and UX research, service design, product design, and more.

By the end of this post, you’ll understand…

  • Exactly what UX design, HCD, and related disciplines are.
  • These disciplines in action –  we’ll provide tangible, real-life examples.
  • The services we offer at Outwitly to provide value for you in these areas. 

To start us off, here’s an Outwitly original diagram providing an overview of Human-Centered Design and Research Disciplines. You can see exactly how they overlap and interact with one another! Throughout this post, it might be helpful to return to this diagram as you learn more about each individual discipline.


Bubble graph showing how Human-Centred Design (HCD) interacts with Service Design, Design Research, Design Thinking, UX Research, UX and UI Design


What is HCD? (Human-Centered Design)

Let’s start with the overarching discipline of human-centered design – a creative and empathetic approach to problem-solving that starts with understanding the people at the centre of the product or service you’re designing.⁠

Human-centered design (HCD) is the process of reimagining a product or service by putting the needs of the people who use that product or service to the forefront as an unwavering focus. The human-centered design philosophy works to uncover the user’s needs, behaviours, characteristics, pain points, and motivations through ethnographic research, leading to the design of better user experiences! HCD is considered a “messy” process due to its highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary nature involving many professionals with different perspectives, expertise, and backgrounds. Learn more about the HCD process here

Why would an organization need human-centered design? For starters, design-led organizations significantly outperform their competitors. Design Management Institute’s DMI Index found, “The most innovative companies in the world* share one thing in common. They use design as an integrative resource to innovate more efficiently and successfully.” Results from an analysis by the DMI and Motiv showed that over the last 10 years design-led companies have maintained a significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 228% (DMI). HCD will help to increase your revenue, improve user/customer experience, increase market share, streamline broken and repetitive processes, and help to align your organization’s vision (c-level execs included!).

More on HCD HERE!


What are Design Research & Service Design?

In our industry, we conduct research for the purpose of improving the design of an experience (UX and HCD), whether that is an employee experience, a mobile app experience, an internal business process that is clunky and repetitive, or a government service – like getting your driver’s license. Let’s get started! 

What is Design Research?

Conducting design research is the best way for you to get to know your users and customers, and the earlier you can start researching, the better! Design research, is in a nutshell, research for the purpose of designing a better experience, whether that is an experience with a product, app, service, or organization.

It involves both secondary (desk research) and primary research. The most common design research methods used are in-depth interviews, diary studies, surveys, and observations. Let’s look at an example of how design research improves customer experience! 

Through design research, you’ll gain valuable insights, reveal major pain points in the customer journey, and discover opportunities to improve your user and customer experience throughout their entire journey. The insight you gain from conducting research will also majorly reduce the risk associated with feature and product launches. 

Design Research Mastery - Learn how to become a pro in your UX and Service Design career with Outwitly Academy.

What is Service Design?

Service Design is the design of systems that encompass users, service providers, business processes, and logistics. It is a method for designing experiences that reach people through many different touchpoints, and that happens over time. Service design helps to improve customer satisfaction and reduce demand on your organization’s customer support team by deeply understanding your customers and their journey. It will help you uncover your biggest customer pain points, find new opportunities, and optimize your business processes. Service design utilizes design research and systems thinking to understand how a service is delivered “behind the scenes” and what isn’t working for your customers and employees.

Our favourite real-life examples of service design always involve the government. Take a second to visualize the process of getting your driver’s license (eek!). What do you have to do in order to accomplish this goal? Now, in 2022, you can go through the process of getting your license online and accomplish this task somewhat easily. Flashback even 10 years ago, and you had to go into a government office to deal with their disorganized, clunky, and jumbled services. Another great example is the home buying process. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, questions like, “How on EARTH do I qualify for a mortgage?” will inevitably cross your mind. So many people go through this process on a daily basis – it should just be easier and more… human-centered! A bank might be interested in looking at that entire first-time home buying experience and working with a service designer to see where they can make the process easier, with the goal of becoming the most human-friendly mortgage lender in the game. 

At Outwitly, we dive deep into your current business processes and customer journey to understand inefficiencies and areas of friction. Then we help you redesign a streamlined process and better customer experience! For more information on how we can help you to improve your services, click here.

More on Service Design HERE!


What are UX and UI Design, UX Research, and Product Design?

Next, let’s talk about UX and UI design, UX (user experience) research, and product design! First up are UX (user experience) and UI (user interface design) – two of the most commonly confused disciplines in the HCD spectrum. Though these two processes are complementary, they are independent of each other. Both UX and UI design are essential for a successful product, but UX design should be your first step in the process (which should include user research). Designing user interfaces (UI) without first working on the experience can mean your product looks great, but isn’t easy to use. Commit to the experience of your user first and foremost before diving into what your product “looks” like. Let’s look more closely at these two…


What is UX Design?

UX stands for User Experience, which entails a user’s end-to-end experience with a digital product or service. UX design is the process of enhancing an experience by making a product or service (such as mobile application or website) more accessible, easy to use, and enjoyable. 

Let’s look at a real-life example of UX design in action. A good example is Netflix and their “Next Episode” feature. Remember when you’d be deep in a Netflix episode binge and instead of hitting “Next Episode”, you had to re-enter the series catalogue, choose the next episode you wanted to watch, re-watch the opening title sequence, and manually exit the closing credits to repeat this whole process? A UX designer would’ve analyzed this process and said, “What can we do better here?” See how that one feature removed user frustration, made the process easier and more enjoyable, and met the needs of users? UX design perfection. 

At Outwitly, we can help you improve your organization’s UX by taking your old, clunky, and hard-to-use websites and applications, and through the user experience process, make them beautiful and easy to use. We can redesign existing mobile, desktop, tablet, and web applications or create them from scratch! We’ll help you create innovative products and services, delight your users, AND save money on development cycles with our world-class UX design.


More on UX Design HERE!


What is UI Design?

User Interface (UI) Design is a process focused on the look and feel of interfaces within software or a computerized device. This includes everything the user engages with, such as images, icons, typography, colour, buttons, visual hierarchy, text entry fields, layout, and more. A UI designer determines exactly what the product will look like, expertly crafting the aesthetics to be attractive and visually appealing.

You’ve probably heard of Airbnb, and their application is known to have one of the best UI designs around. Whether you’re viewing AirBNB on a mobile device or desktop computer, their UI design consistently delivers on key elements like navigation menus, search bars, iconography, and accessibility for users. Airbnb also has great UX! Remember, UX design sets the foundation for ease of use while ensuring your product provides a solution to a need, and UI design makes it look pretty and consistent across platforms.


Image of 3 smartphones with the Airbnb interface showing the flow of using the app. First smartphone screen shows the main screen with the text "Where would you like to travel, Keira?" with images of the popular places to book in her area. The second screen shows a calendar where you would book a timeframe of when you're staying. The third screen shows an interface that allows you to select guests - adults, children etc.

This article by Career Foundry provides some great examples of some not-so-great UI designs. If you’d like to see what not to do, check that out here

More on UI Design HERE!


What is UX Research?

Next up: UX Research! It is similar to design research but refers specifically to research conducted with end-users of an application or website. The purpose of UX research is to understand how someone uses an application today, or what they might need in a new application. It also involves usability testing in the later stages of the design process, as well as working hand-in-hand with product managers, designers, and developers to create user stories for implementation. 

At Outwitly, research is one of our favourite activities! We talk to your customers, users, citizens, and employees to find out what’s working today with your websites, applications, programs, and services, assess what’s going wrong, and then identify actionable design recommendations for improving and streamlining those experiences. Learn more about how we can help you with design research or UX research here!

More on UX Research HERE!


What is Product Design?

Finally, product design involves the design of mobile apps, web applications, IoT devices, desktop applications, and more. The purpose of product design is to create a digital tool that supports users in accomplishing their goals (whatever those goals might be). Generally, when we talk about UX (user experience) design or UI design, we are most often referring to product design. Product design includes steps like conducting user research, creating user flows, designing wireframes, finalizing the visual design, conducting thorough user testing, and so much more.

An example of product design is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) product application like Asana, which was designed for project and task management. Asana is available to use in your web browser, as a desktop app, or as a mobile app, making it highly accessible – you just need to have a connection to the internet. Asana was designed to be “the easiest way to manage team projects and tasks”. This product allows you to organize tasks, schedule deadlines, collaborate with team members to meet goals, and much more, all in one streamlined and intuitively designed place. 

At Outwitly, we are UX experts! If you’re looking to hire a product designer or UX firm, we are the right people for the job. For more on what we can do for you and your product offerings, click here.


More on Product Design HERE!


We anticipate that any unanswered questions you had about HCD, UX and UI design, design research, service design, or product design have been answered! We hope that the real-life examples we gave helped to illustrate exactly how our industry’s many unique disciplines work to improve experiences. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what we do – improve the human, user, and customer experience through design and research.

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