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Last edited 12 Oct 2021
Human centric is a term used to describe the process of making the preferences of people the most important priority in design and management decision making and problem solving strategies. Related terms include people centric design and human centred design.
The concept of human centric design was informally introduced by the American industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. In his 1955 book Designing for People, Dreyfuss explains that industrial design can evolve by beginning and ending with people.
He stresses the importance of “habits, physical dimensions and psychological impulses” as well as their financial requirements. In Designing for People, Dreyfuss wrote, “we must conceive not only a satisfactory design, but also one that incorporates that indefinable appeal to assure purchase. The Greek philosopher Protagoras had a phrase for it, ‘Man is the measure of all things.'”
This human centric philosophy of industrial design influenced the work of Stanford University Professor John E. Arnold, who applied Dreyfuss’s methods to his academic approach to creative problem solving for business and industry. In his lectures, Arnold explained that a “creative engineer” combines the technical skills of engineering with a more comprehensive human-centric approach (even more so than Dreyfuss’s industrial design example). In the book, Creative Engineering: Promoting Innovation by Thinking Differently, Arnold proposed a design process that solved problems through creativity but required innovative thinking through the application of the human-centric approach.
In the 1990s, the introduction of standardised human-centric concepts formed the basis of ISO 9241, which was originally titled Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs). In 2006, as the focus of the standard moved beyond the ergonomics of human and computer interaction in relation to hardware and software, it was renamed, Ergonomics of Human System Interaction.
ISO 9241-210 provides guidance on human-system interaction throughout the life cycle of interactive systems. In its 2019 update, ISO 9241-210 defines human centric as “an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics and usability knowledge and techniques. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human wellbeing, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance.”
In the article The seven tenets of human centred design, David Townson explains the difference between user centred and human centred design, stressing the fact that there could be users that may not yet be known to the designer during the creative process. Design within this context is insufficient; simply designing for a generic user is not human centric.
He writes, “All design should be human centred, it’s as simple as that. And I mean humancentred, not ‘user centred’ or ‘user friendly’, because users are human beings after all. But, more importantly, because being human centred is not just about your user. Human-centred design takes into account every single human being that your design decisions impact on."
 The human centric built environment
Over time, the creative approach to problem solving in business has seen the wider adoption of human centric methodologies. In the built environment, incorporating the human perspective into design and operations has been linked with improvements in employee performance and wellbeing. This has been accomplished through the integration of innovative technologies that offer multi-functional capabilities and facilitate an inspiring and engaging environment.
Some designers are creating workplaces that elevate the human experience by basing the design on how people can, need and want to perform tasks, rather than expecting people to adjust and accommodate their behaviours to the environment. When applied to product development, human centric design can result in components that adjust to people so people don’t have to adjust to products.
During his presentation at the BSRIA Annual Conference in September 2021, Kas Mohammed, VP of Digital Energy for Schneider Electric stressed how buildings of the future could potentially leverage an all digital, all electric world to provide people centric environments that are sustainable, resilient and hyper-resilient. Mohammed said, "These buildings would incorporate smart technology to support building occupants in their efforts to be collaborative, comfortable, flexible, healthy, effective and productive. The technology could also monitor occupant levels and health indicators to improve occupant experiences while semi-autonomously identifying issues and taking actions."
- Biophilic design.
- BSRIA Conference 2021.
- Designing for employee wellbeing.
- Ergonomics in construction.
- Human-centric lighting.
- Human-centric workplace identified as the top office trend for 2020.
- Human comfort in buildings.
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