User-centred Design (UCD) – 6 Methods




User-centred design (UCD) is a project approach that puts the intended users of a site at the centre of its design and development. It does this by talking directly to the user at key points in the project to make sure the site will deliver upon their requirements.

The stages are carried out in an iterative fashion, with the cycle being repeated until the project’s usability objectives are attained. This makes it critical that the participants in these methods accurately reflect the profile of your actual users. There are 6 major user-centred design methods in this project approach:


1. Focus Groups

What are they?
A focus group involves encouraging an invited group of intended/actual users of a site (i.e. participants) to share their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideas on a certain subject.

Organising focus groups within an organisation can also be very useful in getting buy-in to a project from within that company.

When to use?
Focus groups are most often used as an input to design. They generally produce non-statistical data and are a good means of getting information about a domain (e.g. what peoples’ tasks involve).

It’s necessary to have an experienced moderator and analyst for a focus group to be effective.

To find out more about what, when and how to conduct a focus group, read more at


2. Usability Testing

What is it?
Usability testing sessions evaluate a site by collecting data from people as they use it. A person is invited to attend a session in which they’ll be asked to perform a series of tasks while a moderator takes note of any difficulties they encounter.

Users can be asked to follow the think-aloud protocol which asks them to verbalise what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

You can also time users to see how long it takes them to complete tasks, which is a good measure of efficiency (although you should bear in mind that using the ‘think aloud’ protocol will slow users down considerably).

Two specialists’ time is normally required per session – one to moderate, one to note problems.

When to use?
Usability testing can be used as an input to design or at the end of a project. It represents an excellent way finding out what the most likely usability problems with a site are likely to be.

Usability testing can be used generate non-statistical or statistical data. You will:

  • Discover whether participants can complete specified tasks successfully
  • Measure how much time it takes to complete specified tasks
  • Learn how satisfied participants are with your website
  • Identify changes that are required to improve the usability of your website
  • Analyse the site performance to see if it meets your usability objectives

Usability testing requires some form of design to be available to test – even if it’s only on paper. Testing works best if it focuses either on gathering non-statistical feedback on a design through ‘talk aloud’ or statistical measures.


3. Card Sorting



What is it?
Card sorting is a method for suggesting intuitive structures/categories. A participant is presented with an unsorted pack of index cards. Each card has a statement written on it that relates to a page of the site.

The participant is then asked to sort these cards into groups and to give names to these groups. The results of multiple individual sorts are then combined and analysed statistically.

When to use?
Card sorting is usually used as an input to design. It’s an excellent way of suggesting good categories for a site’s content and deriving its information architecture.

Card sorting can be used generate statistical data.

Providing participants with a trial run on some easy cards (e.g. sports, animals, etc.) can reassure about what they are expected to do and result in a more productive session.


4. Participatory Design



What is it?
Participatory design does not just ask users or stakeholders of the website for opinions on design issues, but actively involves them in the design and decision-making processes.

Participatory exercises help the group to explore the problem space, current and ideal experiences, and ways of achieving the ideal design. It enables people with different skills and expertise to contribute equally and can also be an efficient way to get a wide range of input.

When to use?
Participatory design is usually used within a mini-project to generate prototypes that feed into an overall project’s design process.

An example would be a participatory design workshop in which developers, designers and users work together to design an initial prototype. This initial prototype would then feed into a more traditional design process.

Projects which only utilise participatory design are very rare.

Participatory design sessions can be very fluid and require an experienced moderator with thorough knowledge of the domain to guide them.


5. Questionnaires

What are they?
Questionnaires are a means of asking users for their responses to a pre-defined set of questions and it is an effective way for generating statistical data.

When to use?
Questionnaires are usually employed when a design team:

  • Can only gain remote access to users of a site.
  • Is seeking a larger sample size than can be realistically achieved through direct contact.

It is for this reason that questionnaires are usually administered through post, telephone or electronic means.

Questionnaires allow statistical analysis of results, which can increase a study’s credibility through its scientific appearance. This makes it all the more important that the questionnaire is well-designed and non-biased in its question wording.


6. Interviews

What are they?
An interview usually involves one interviewer speaking to one participant at a time.

The advantages of an interview are:

  • Each participant’s unique point of view can be explored in detail.
  • Any misunderstandings between the interviewer and the participant are likely to be quickly identified and addressed.

The output of an interview is almost exclusively non-statistical – it’s critical that reports of interviews are carefully analysed by experienced practitioners.

When to use?
Interviews are usually employed early in the design process in order to gain a more detailed understanding of a domain/area of activity or specific requirements.

Interviewing places a high premium on the experience and skill of the interviewer and analyst.


This has been an introduction to the major user-centred design methods. It’s vital to remember that although each can be extremely valuable, using them in the right way, for the right reasons and at the right time is critical.
Exactly which method to use, and when and how to use it will differ from project to project. Contact us at to consult on usability testing today!

We will be happy to see your thoughts

Leave a reply

Login/Register access is temporary disabled
Compare items () compare