• Andrew Pacio

The Difference between Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design



Recently, a question popped up in my mind after reading about Human-Centered Design in Don Norman's book, The Design of Everyday Things. What is the difference between design thinking and HCD?


The two subjects ultimately both are a collection of methods and ideals for attaining the same goal. Problem-solving.


Design Thinking is a set of processes, the goal of which is to identify problems worth solving and the solutions to said problems that are worth having. From start to finish it includes Discover/Empathize, Define, Develop/Ideate, Prototype, Test, Iterate, and Deliver. The delivery or solution may or may not be human-centric at all.



Human-Centered Design, on the other hand, is a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are purpose-built to suit their needs. The process is similar to Design thinking. Designers empathize, ideate, and implement.



Code-n defines it differently, but still with the same message. "The former focuses on innovation and creation and is about developing new products, services, and even about solutions for social problems. The focus of the latter is on improving the usability and user experience of a certain product or service."


Below, I've looked into what other people think about the differences:


"Personally, I see Design Thinking as applicable to any design problem, whereas Human-Centered Design is a process or philosophy of design that holds the human impacts and outcomes at its core in regards to decision-making, validation, and goals.

I don't often think of HCD as a subset or specialization of Design Thinking, but a strong argument for this is not hard to imagine." - Yosef Shuman, Lead Service Designer


"Design Thinking enables Human-Centered Design. Design thinking is a method while HCD is a feature. If you solve a problem as a designer, you are applying Design Thinking." -Render Sangma, Product Designer


"They’re the same thing. Design thinking is the process of looking into something to observe and see what opportunities there may be to improve it. By definition the idea of human/user- centered design is the belief that you should think about how someone wants to achieve their task instead of how you may be limited to the way in which you make things or deliver a service." - Andy Parker, UX Coach



Why it matters in UX/UI?

Is it vital to know the difference between the two? Probably not. Both terms are commonly used interchangeably and the line gets blurry in the middle, but knowing how both take part in innovation and problem-solving is important, especially in user experience.

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