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Human-centered design is the art of designing tools and technology which fit around the way humans think and behave.

Instead of asking the user to perform various complex tasks to reach their end goal, human-centered technology is designed so it fits around how the user thinks and behaves most naturally. The aim is to give the user more time to do what they need to do, and waste less time trying to figure out the interface. 

But isn’t all design basically human centered? It’s humans who use it, after all. On a basic level, yes, of course this is the case. However, what we consider human-centered design is the kind of creative approach which asks how technology can not only resolve a problem, but how it can do so in a way that puts the user at the center of that experience. Let’s explore what human-centered design means by looking at these five examples.

Five examples of human-centered design

Whether it’s in our professional or personal lives, human centered design isn’t just a nice add-on. When design is not human-centered, the end user will be less likely to use the tool or solution; money is wasted, in the case of your business; and the buyer feels frustrated. Below are five examples of technological innovations which are designed perfectly to fit around the needs of the user before all else. 

1.  Automatic cloud sync

Until just a few years ago, accessing your documents while on the move required a lot of planning. In many cases, the only way to bring large files with you was to download them to a USB stick, a compact disc, or carry them with you on a laptop. Accessing and working on files while away from the office was difficult, not to mention the risk of losing the physical disk you were carrying.

Cloud sync is therefore an incredible, human-centered technology improvement. By automatically synchronizing any work carried out on the user’s device and being available anywhere with an internet connection, the user’s documents and way of interacting with them are no longer constrained by time and space.  Users are not forced to carry extra devices and tools with them wherever they go.  

2.  Collage

The world’s first topic-driven computing solution, Collage is a sidebar which appears in the user’s Outlook inbox. We realized that for most IT users, interaction with their various apps involves constantly switching between different screens and applications that have their own internal logic and interface. This quickly becomes confusing and disorientating. The user wastes time figuring out how to use their different tools, rather than using tools to get their actual work done.

So, with Collage we decided to bring all information from different enterprise apps and tools directly to the user. Rather than forcing users to switch between different apps to find information and do their jobs, we designed Collage to bring relevant, contextual information right to them, when it’s relevant and useful.

3.  Cortana

Cortana is one of Microsoft’s most exciting human-centered innovations in years. If you don’t have Windows 10, you may not have come across Cortana. Effectively, it is a personal digital assistant (PDA), a sort of secretary on the user’s computer which is intended to make life easier. Outside of work, users can ask Cortana to remind them of their mother-in-law’s birthday, or how long it will take to get to Stockholm. In the workplace, employees can ask Cortana to bring up the last file they were working on, or ask it to scan the company cloud for a contact’s phone number.

What makes this a great example of human-centered design is that Cortana makes slow and multi-step tasks much smoother and easier. By letting the user interact with the machine in the most human way possible—through natural language and voice recognition—the experience of using a computer to achieve tasks becomes much more human.

4.  Fitness trackers

Technology has all too often been associated with unhealthy lifestyles. Desktop computers encourage people to be sedentary; after all, you are usually sitting down when using one. The explosion of wearable fitness devices in recent years is therefore a welcome, and very human-centered improvement.

By literally fitting around the human body (normally the wrist or ankle), these devices link to the owner’s smartphone and tell them how many calories they are burning and can motivate them to be more active. Whether it’s inspiring them to walk rather than drive, or climb the office stairs rather than take the elevator, these tools fit around the user’s lifestyle and help them live more healthily and happily.

5.  Microsoft Surface

In recent years, computer hardware and devices have become ever more intuitive and easy for people to interact with. The Microsoft Surface Pro is among the most human-centered pieces of hardware yet released. With its detachable keyboard, it can be used as both a laptop and tablet. But what makes this a human-centered piece of technology is that it is one of the most tactile and interactive pieces of hardware available. The Surface Pro has a touch screen. You can scroll with a mouse or your finger, pick it up, type at a desk, scribble notes with your finger tip or the stylus and, since it includes Cortana, speak directly to it. This versatility of options for interaction makes it brilliantly human, giving the user countless options for interacting with the technology.

To see what human-centered design really feels like, watch our recent webinar where we spoke about how to overcome the distraction of Office 365 apps, by focusing on what matters most… topics. 


David Lavenda
Chief Product Officer