Human-Centered vs. User-Centered UX Design

Learn the differences between human-centered and user-centered design and explore the ways design interacts with all people.

Human-Centered vs. User-Centered UX Design

Exploring the Ways Design Interacts With People

Today’s interactive designers are tasked with consistently achieving something more than aesthetically striking creative. In today’s marketplace, digital media is king—and the evolving need for digital marketing is far more complex than that of more traditional marketing channels. Designers must consider the different journeys being undertaken by those for whom they are designing. They must design with the knowledge that 30 percent of all commerce is conducted on a mobile phone and let the platform a person may be using inform their work.1

As recently as 2016, roughly 35 percent of marketing funds were spent on digital buys.2 For 2018, that number is expected to grow to 41 percent and reach 45 percent by 2020.3 These statistics speak volumes. They suggest the need for a more well-considered design process that focuses on the user’s experience over his or her aesthetic preferences.

With this in mind, what exactly does it mean to design from a more human- or user-centered perspective? Below, we’ll lay out the definitions of both user-centered and human-centered design and discuss the ways they’re improving design through a more inclusive and experiential mindset.

Human Vs. User

Many discussions surrounding user experience (UX) design regard “human-centered” and “user-centered” design as essentially interchangeable. However, for the purpose of clarity, we will define both and briefly explore their differences.

Human-Centered Design infographic
User-Centered Design infographic

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Though the terms “user” and “human” are often used separately when referring to design strategies, they are closely related and not mutually exclusive. In some scenarios, user-centric and human-centric design could be the same thing: Both are focused on providing the end user (or human) with a design that’s beneficial to his or her life.

In other circumstances, it appears that user-centric and human-centric design could differ slightly. For example, user-centric design could be taken as a less emotionally empathetic approach, focused primarily on the tangible, physiological ways users interact with a platform, whereas human-centric design incorporates their emotional or psychological preferences as well.

Either way, applying user- or human-centric design in your process as a UX designer should significantly open up your thinking and improve your outcomes. As advertising, marketing and overall brand interaction becomes increasingly digital, the need for user- and human-centered approaches to design—ones that actually incorporate and consider the preferences and feelings of the people who will be interacting with digital interfaces—will be absolutely critical.


  1. Retrieved on March 1, 2018, from
  2. Retrieved on March 1, 2018, from
  3. Retrieved on March 1, 2018, from
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He is an Associate Professor in the Evaluation and Measurement program within the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University. He is also the program coordinator for the online Master of Education degree in Research, Measurement, and Statistics.
Dr. Astrid N. Sambolín Morales is an Assistant Professor in Kent State Online’s 100% Online Master of Education degree in Cultural Foundations. She received her PhD in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research provides a more nuanced picture of the agency, resistance, and empowerment enacted by displaced Puerto Rican m(others) in the U.S., and her work was funded by several grants, including the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center, the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, the URBAN Research Network, and the NAEd Spencer Foundation.
Felesia McDonald, ’14 is an adjunct instructor in the iSchool, teaching courses in the 100% Online Master of Science in User Experience. McDonald is also the Sr Manager UX Design at Optum, a branch of UnitedHealth Group.