Alternates to Human Centred Design



While user centred design (UCD) is highly valuable, here are some alternative approaches to consider for a more holistic product design process:

Technology-Driven Design

This is one of the “solution-lead” approaches where the “solution in search of a problem” expression becomes real. In this approach, the business emphasises the exploration of emerging technologies and their potential applications. Therefore, researchers focus on innovation, brainstorming how they could revolutionise existing processes or create entirely new product categories or possibilities that would excite the customers. This method is well-suited for high-risk, high-reward scenarios where the goal is to disrupt industries rather than simply iterate on existing offerings.

  • The rise of touchscreens exemplifies technology-driven design. Engineers focused on developing and perfecting multi-touch capabilities, sparking a revolution in human-computer interaction. This technological breakthrough didn’t simply refine existing products; it ultimately enabled entirely new devices like smartphones and tablets, fundamentally changing the way we interact with technology.
  • The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions drives the pursuit of sustainable, synthetically producible fuels. This exemplifies a technology-driven approach: scientists and engineers focus on groundbreaking fuel inventions, with the goal of subsequently adapting these solutions to existing energy systems. The ultimate aim is to create a new economic model and narrative focused on carbon neutrality.

Market-Driven Design

The market-driven design places a strong focus on responding to existing demands, competitor offerings, and identified market gaps. Extensive market research helps uncover customer pain points, common frustrations with current solutions, and trends that signal potential opportunities. This approach is effective when working within well-established markets and aiming for a clear competitive advantage.

  • Introducing a simple solution amidst complex alternates: A company producing task management software might analyse competitors and discover that many solutions are overly complex for individual users. They could adopt a market-driven design approach to create a streamlined, simplified solution catering to those seeking a less overwhelming experience.
  • Software products often adopt new features in a reactive attempt to keep pace with competitors. The addition of reporting tools to a print management system, or 2-factor Authentication (2FA), often stems from the perception that these are now “table stakes” features within the industry. This signals a market-driven design approach, where businesses prioritise maintaining a competitive image rather than deeply exploring whether these features truly resonate with their specific user needs.

Value-Based Design

In value-based design, a company’s core values and mission act as guiding principles throughout the design process. Values like sustainability, social responsibility, or accessibility influence choices made around materials, user experience, and even target audience. This approach helps attract users who resonate with those values and can be essential for organisations with a strong social or ethical focus.

  • An outdoor apparel company deeply committed to environmental sustainability might adopt a value-based design approach. Every aspect, from sourcing materials to garment construction and user education, would be shaped by the mission to minimise environmental impact.
  • Food companies targeting vegetarian and vegan consumers prioritise adherence to ethical sourcing principles over immediate user desirability or taste. These companies align with their higher purpose of avoiding animal-based ingredients, sometimes resulting in initial limitations on flavour profiles or familiar textures.

Systems Thinking Design

Systems designed for exceptional performance and multifaceted goals often emphasize foundational qualities like reliability, scalability, security, and efficiency before tailoring the system towards individual user convenience. This systems thinking approach recognises that the underlying architecture must be robust to support long-term aims and adapt to unpredictable demands.

  • Ride-sharing apps revolutionised transportation by building infrastructure far more robust and scalable than conventional taxi services. This allowed them to rapidly expand, meet peak-time demand, and ultimately redefine convenience within the industry.
  • Similarly, warehouse automation systems prioritise maximising speed and minimising errors throughout the packaging and delivery process. The design emphasis is on optimising the entire flow of goods, often utilising complex robotics and tracking systems. While this may introduce minor inconveniences at individual touch-points, the overall goal is to guarantee swift and reliable fulfilment on a massive scale.


Co-design champions extreme collaboration with users, making them active partners throughout the design process rather than merely subjects of research. It involves participatory workshops, iterative cycles of development with constant user input, and even a degree of shared ownership over the final product. This method is ideal for serving niche communities with highly specific needs, minimising the risk of mismatched solutions.

  • A software company building a specialised tool for medical researchers might utilise co-design techniques. Researchers would not be just interviewed but actively involved in shaping the tool’s interface, testing prototypes, and suggesting features, ensuring it truly reflects their work process and pain points.
  • When designing applications for people with special needs, commuters or aids for visually impaired users, the products are imagined, designed and matured in extensive collaboration with users who’d eventually use.

User-centred design (UCD)

User-centred design places the needs, goals, and pain points of the target audience at the heart of every decision throughout the development of a digital or SaaS product. It involves iterative research (interviews, observations, usability testing) to deeply understand users, ensuring solutions genuinely solve their problems and offer an intuitive, enjoyable experience.

While other product design approaches are available as an alternate, UCD reduces development risks by ensuring products align with real-world user needs who’re going to pay for it. This leads to increased adoption, customer satisfaction, and long-term business success. Additionally, it fosters an internal culture of empathy within a business, which leads to better decision-making at all levels.

UCD is a benchmark without the upper-limit to it as all companies at some stage trend to use UCD to ensure their products resonate with buyers and slide into their life fulfilling them at deeper emotional levels. That’s the reason why its widely recognised as the gold standard for digital product design. Its focus on evidence-based decisions and continuous user validation reduces the reliance on assumptions or solely market-driven strategies.

  • E-commerce Redesign: An online retailer notices high cart abandonment rates. UCD principles drive research to uncover the reasons, whether it’s a confusing checkout process, unexpected shipping costs, or lack of payment options. Solutions are directly informed by these user insights.
  • Productivity Tool: A software team aims to make their complex project management tool more accessible to new users. UCD guides them to create contextual onboarding, simplified navigation, and tailored tutorials that match different user skill levels.

Jobs to be done

That’s going to be controversial, but there’s a reason why Jobs to be Done has earned its own visibility and prominence. Though a user-centred framework, its unique starting point sets it apart as a distinct approach. JTBD keeps teams laser-focused on what truly matters to users, leading to solutions that provide tangible value. Its emphasis on ‘progress’ makes it well-suited for products with measurable outcomes.

Here are key drivers behind the success of the jobs-to-be-done approach:

  • Focus on progress, not products: Instead of obsessing over features or the product itself, JTBD centres on what the user is trying to achieve or the progress they want to make. This means understanding the deeper motivations and struggles behind why they might use a product or service.
  • Customer as the “Hero”: The customer is the protagonist in their own story, and your solution is a tool to help them overcome challenges and reach their desired outcomes. JTBD reframes the design conversation around how your product can make the user more successful.
  • Context is key: JTBD recognises that jobs arise in specific situations. This means solutions needs to be tailored to the circumstances, emotions, and social factors influencing the user’s needs.

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