The Foundations of Human-Centric Design in Manufacturing

By Protolabs

If we want our product to be useful, fit for purpose, and marketable, we need to consider many factors, starting with its design. Whether you've identified a product need or a market gap, you'll want to ensure your end product is appropriate. Continue reading this blog to learn more about the human-centric design process.

What does human-centric design mean?

Human-centric design prioritises the needs of the end user. It’s essentially a product or service that solves the user’s problems and aligns with their goals and needs.

How does the concept of human-centric design work in a product’s lifecycle?

In essence, human-centric design focuses on designing for people. Putting the end-user's needs first, designing a product to address a specific need, and then reverse engineering through design. When the users need changes, one would revisit the design and make adaptations to help meet the user's changing needs. A great example of this is the mobile phone. They were initially designed to address the need to be contactable while on the move, with designs (and technology) changing as the users’ lifestyle changes later on to take photos or access social media.

designer at machine

What are the key stages of human-centric design?

  1. Understand and define – What does the end-user need? Understand their goals, challenges, and needs, then define them clearly and concisely.
  2. Design—Once the need is defined, the next stage is to try to solve/support the end-user. This involves producing a product or part that will either solve the problem/ challenge the end-user is having, support them in where they need to be, or help them with a requirement in their product process.
  3. Prototype—Once the idea is developed, prototyping needs to begin, whether it be a paper sketch, interactive digital simulation, or actual physical mock-up.
  4. Testing—Once prototyping is done, the next step is testing. This will involve testing with real users to ensure the product is working as required and to learn of any issues, pain points, etc., before proceeding to the final stages of the product lifecycle.
  5. Iterate—Based on the feedback gained in the testing phase, tweak the part, refine it, or explore alternative options (where things haven’t worked as well as planned).
  6. Implement—Once happy, it's time for launch (into the real world). It should be noted that this may involve further refinement based on ongoing customer feedback and user data.
  7. Evaluate—Once the launch has happened, designers continue to monitor and evaluate the end-use part in the real world, acquiring additional information for further refinement or potential opportunities for further products and services in the future.

What are the benefits of adopting a user-centric approach to product design?

A user-centric approach inevitably leads to improved user satisfaction, higher adoption rates, better differentiation, and long-term success. This is because the product/ part/ service is developed specifically with the user and their needs in mind.
It can lead to increased revenue; satisfied customers are more likely to become repeat customers or refer colleagues.

Is it possible to future-proof a product while still having a human-centric design?

Although human-centric design mainly focuses on the needs of the customer now rather than thinking about the future, it also involves understanding the evolving needs of the end-user and adapting to changes along the way. Some ways in which human-centric design can incorporate elements of future-proofing include continuous iteration and refinement, anticipation of future trends, long-term support and maintenance, and education.

In essence, human-centric design in manufacturing is not just about creating products but meaningful solutions that enhance end-users' lives and drive long-term success. Embracing human-centric design principles can create a solid foundation for creating products that truly resonate.