Why Every Developer Should Understand User-centered Design

By Pluralsight    |    May 26, 2016

As a developer, there are few things more rewarding than bringing a new product to life — especially when users respond to it enthusiastically. You undoubtedly spend a great deal of time crafting its functionality, ensuring it responds quickly to user requests, and making sure your code doesn’t throw errors. When it’s done, receiving positive feedback is a reminder that it was all worth it.

But what happens when users don’t like or understand your product? It can feel defeating. The good news, though, is that there are methods you can implement to be sure your products are consistently amazing (meaning: users love them and keep coming back for more). And luckily enough, you’ll learn these methods in our new web design course, The Elements of Web Design! To get you started, today we’ll go over some things you should keep in mind when considering how users will interact with your product.

Design vs. Artistry

Before delving in, it’s important to note you do not need to be a “designer” in order to design a great product. While it’s true that design is often associated with artistry, keep in mind that artistry is subjective. Product design, on the other hand, is all about problem solving. Sure, artistry can live within a product’s brand or style, but design should be a shared skill between a designer and developer.

Users Are Everything

Design must revolve around a continual conversation with users. Too often, I hear from people who are already knee-deep into product design but have yet to determine their target audience. They’ve never spoken with assumed users or asked them to interact with their designs.

I know it can be uncomfortable to share something incomplete, but the sooner you start showing your product to real people, the sooner you can gauge their wants and needs. After all, you’re building an [insert awesome product concept] for them, right? It should help them solve a problem, complete a task, or be entertained. Getting a fresh set of eyes on a product you’ve seen all day, every day (and know inside and out), can help you determine whether or not it will live up to its full potential.

Here’s a basic outline of the steps you should take when you begin exploring user-centered design.

Step 1: Competitive Analysis

I suggest kicking things off with a competitive analysis. Make a short list of products similar to what you’re creating, and then find some people who use them. Ask these users what they like and dislike about the products. What features do they find frustrating? What features would they like to add?

Through these conversations, you can learn more about potential users’ needs while also exploring areas that your competition may be overlooking.

Step 2: Paper Prototypes

Next, work with those same users in paper prototyping sessions. These prototypes should be low-fidelity, and the sessions should feel experimental. By avoiding pixel-perfect designs, you can help the testers feel more comfortable and willing to contribute — and less pressured to validate a high-res mockup.

Step 3: Wireframe Prototypes

At this point, you’ve learned about your potential users’ wants and needs, and you can create wireframe prototypes based on their feedback. (My go-to tools for this step are Sketch and InVision.)

When testing these wireframes, you may choose to ask simple questions like: What is this? What stands out to you? What do you like about it? Is it trustworthy? Or you might ask testers to complete simple tasks, such as: Create an account. Find a flight to Bozeman, Montana.

By the end of this round of testing, you should have a clear understanding of your users’ goals, and you should be confident that they know how to interact with your product’s features.

Step 4: Staging

To prepare for the final round of testing, I suggest building out your features in an interactive staging environment. Although this may seem like an unnecessary step, it will allow you to test important aspects, such as interaction design, overall delight, and the effect of the brand on the product. This final step can also help you choose whether to pivot on your product concept before writing a single line of code. (This can save you a ton of time and money.)

Dig Deeper

We’ve just scratched the surface of user-centered design here. There’s so much more to learn about user interface design and user experience design, and The Elements of Web Design provides a great starting point for both. Be sure to play through the course to learn about creating personas to identify potential users, establishing scalable information architecture, and more. And let us know in the comments below if you have any web design tips of your own!

About the author

Pluralsight is the technology skills platform. We enable individuals and teams to grow their skills, accelerate their careers and create the future.