Agile and user-centric design for software development

Gone are the days when users needed to allocate time and motivate themselves to get acquainted with the applications that were developed for mobile and desktop platforms. Nowadays, applications are engaging, intuitive and user-friendly, which creates interest in the user. Let us examine the more user-centric approaches to development that prevail today.

Brief Description of Agile

In the agile software development movement, improvements have been made regarding reliability when delivering software, increasing return of investment and reducing the risk of building software.

The key values of Agile are:

  • Focus on interaction and collaboration of individuals rather than processes.
  • Customer focus and participation with clear visibility at every stage.
  • Adaptability, flexibility and short sprints of development.
  • Delivery of working software frequently to measure progress.


People tend to expect more from software these days. They expect an intuitive and hassle-free experience, as if it were custom-made for them. If any software hinders them from efficiently achieving their goals, customers are likely to look for a better product.  But, to be successful in the critics’ point of view, we must endeavor to adopt a more user-centered approach.

Brief Description of UCD

User-Centered Design (UCD) can be applied to the design of anything that has a user. UCD is focused on the end-user, rather than on customers as with agile methodology. User-based research provides a mechanism against which decisions can be validated and tested. Guesswork is minimized when decisions are made based on evidence. Keeping the product’s end users at the heart of its design and development process, the end result is far more likely to be usable, useful and meaningful. Quality of experience is a product differentiator rather than number of features. UCD provides a way to engineer these quality experiences. It empowers development teams to create products and solutions that are competitive in today’s discerning market.


A startling but overlooked similarity between agile and UCD is that both are fundamentally misunderstood to be methodologies. In fact, both agile and UCD are philosophies.

Both these philosophies are iterative, and development progresses in small steps providing opportunities for verification and refinement along the way.


There is a history of rivalry behind the agile developers and UX designers. Agile software development is a developer-led philosophy, while UCD is championed by creative heads in many organizations.

Let’s compare some of the principles of the Agile Manifesto conflict with the UCD philosophy, to better understand the differences:

The Agile Manifesto says:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

The equivalent UCD principle might read:

Our highest priority is to help create an experience for end-users where they can achieve their goals easily and efficiently with minimal disruption to their mental model of the problem space.

The Agile Manifesto focuses directly on giving value for the customer, whereas UCD champions the end-user – the idea is to create software that user “cannot live without”.  By delivering such intuitive software we cannot fail to provide knock-on value to our stakeholders.

The Agile Manifesto says:

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

The equivalent UCD principle might read:

The satisfaction of end-user needs (user goals) balanced with the achievement of business goals is the primary measure of success. 

The definition of “working software” is the prime concern here. The aim of this Agile principle was to get development teams out of the mindset of creating a lot of design documentation before coding begins. This accelerated development helping it meet project deadlines. The goal of a software development project is to provide functioning software. With UCD, working software is a secondary measure of progress. The important factor is that whether the software helps the users achieve their goals.


Both agile and UCD can work well together because both philosophies are iterative, incorporating testing with users and refinement. The combined impact of agile and UCD can be extremely powerful. The combination can lead to the following benefits:

  • Flexible pricing
  • Sprint planning
  • Cross-functional, collaborative teams


In combination, both approaches really can offer the best of both worlds resulting in the rapid delivery of digital products that users prefer. Nevertheless, the strength of this combination does not make it right for all projects. The combined approach works best when projects have a flexible scope with evolving requirements, and when there is a need to release a product quickly.

In case you need any support with software development projects, please feel free to contact us. We have vast experience with a range of projects across diverse verticals and would be happy to help.

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