Ben Holliday

Types of design focus

The language we use and what we mean when we’re using a design-led or based approach is important. I recently shared my thinking about different types of design focus on Twitter.

These are my definitions.

User-centred design: Product/more transactional thing.

Person-centred design: Service/more focussed on broader outcomes or life events.

Human-centred design: Bigger questions/context of a place/environment/system view.

These labels often get used interchangeably and can sometimes be used to imply the same meaning. I think it’s better to be clear about the types of questions, context and focus you’re applying to a design process in order to make this as open and accessible to non-designers as possible.

We design for different types of needs. If user-centred design is more functional in terms of understanding and meeting needs. Person-centred design is more holistic. This means that it’s more focussed on emotional needs and goals. Human-centred design is then about thinking beyond individual needs and more towards the collective needs of a system, place, or community.

Work to design services will always require different types of focus at different stages. Finding a common language and being clear about where you need to focus, especially with non-designers, is important if you want build shared understanding to make things happen.

If you want design to have a greater and positive impact in people’s lives, be prepared to focus beyond the experience of the singular ‘user’. As organisations are increasingly thinking about the impact of the work they do in communities, places and the environment, this is essential in being able to re-anchor and embed the broader impact of work into our thinking and with the teams we work with.

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.