Approaches >

HCD (Human Centered Design)

Full name

Human Centered Design.


The approach was developed by, launched by IDEO, a global design and innovation company in 2011. The approach has strong philosophical ties with social marketing, in the sense of developing products, services and behaviour options that are attractive, feasible and affordable. The approach is also promoted by the Stanford at Stanford University.

Sector/behaviour focus

Any sector of intervention, not limited to products, also includes designing programme approaches, services and behaviour options. For example, HCD has been used to design messages to motivate and enable parents to take more opportunities to encourage their young children’s development, or to develop a mobile app that helps young people track, share and manage their financial behaviour.

Focus within the process

Analysis, design and implementation, though the implementation phase of the process mostly concerns piloting and improving solutions before going full scale.

What’s special

The HCD approach is put into practice through a series of facilitated discussions, workshops and other creative activities, using a set of tools for encouraging creative collaborative thinking, involving programme teams and the intended users of solutions / practitioners of behaviours. It is called human centered design because its starting point is the people who will finally use or practice the solutions developed. The design approach is iterative, based on multiple rounds of producing; testing, prioritising and refining ideas until optimum solutions are found to practical problems. The approach is very accessible to project / programme teams, with well-presented and easy-to-understand resources on the / Design Kit website.

Supporting BC theories

Not applicable, but focus on developing the right product, service or activity to appeal to users and satisfy a need.

Time required

It can take weeks or months, depending on the design challenge and the intensity of the process.

Expertise required

Strong facilitating skills and ability to create and facilitate multidisciplinary teams.

Training materials



Case studies and examples

See for programme examples and Design Kit for case studies that show how the approach is used in practice.



INSPIRATION: The Inspiration phase is about learning on the fly, opening yourself up to creative possibilities, and trusting that as long as you remain grounded in desires of the communities you’re engaging, your ideas will evolve into the right solutions. You’ll build your team, get smart on your challenge, and talk to a staggering variety of people.


IDEATION: In the Ideation phase you’ll share what you’ve learned with your team, make sense of a vast amount of data, and identify opportunities for design. You’ll generate lots of ideas, some of which you’ll keep, and others which you’ll discard. You’ll get tangible by building rough prototypes of your ideas, then you’ll share them with the people from whom you’ve learned and get their feedback. You’ll keep iterating, refining, and building until you’re ready to get your solution out into the world.

Implementation, monitoring and evaluation

IMPLEMENTATION: In the Implementation phase you’ll bring your solution to life, and to market. You’ll build partnerships, refine your business model, pilot your idea, and eventually get it out there. And you’ll know that your solution will be a success because you’ve kept the very people you’re looking to serve at the heart of the process.

Key documents

  • The 2015 Field Guide to Human-Centered Design presents appropriate Mindsets for innovation and then 3 phases of a process (Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation) with 57 associated methods. Selected methods can be filtered by phase or by type of challenge (e.g. “how do I get started?” or “how do I know my idea is working?”).
  • Stanford School Design Thinking Bootleg, a set of activity cards to help facilitate a creative and participatory design process.

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