Human-Centered Software Design: Why It Matters and Where the Market Stands
May 02, 2024

Sara Faatz

In today's digital world, most people interact with technology every day — in a lot of cases, multiple times every day. These interactions should be coherent and consistent, but all too often, inaccessible interfaces make technology difficult to navigate and use. That's where human-centered software design comes in.

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Human-centered software design is exactly what it sounds like: applications and websites that are built with humans in mind. These applications are seamless and easy to navigate for a diverse community of users, including those with differing mental and physical abilities, demographic and personality factors and varied language and cultural backgrounds. Accessibility features could include using mobile operating systems in dark mode, zooming in or adjusting text size or conducting voice searches.

The need for human-centric software development is only increasing as time goes on. Several laws regarding software accessibility have been introduced in the US and Europe, and research has shown that inaccessible brands lose billions of dollars in comparison to their accessible counterparts.

According to a recent survey commissioned by Progress, more than half of global organizations recognize the human-centered software design is a major need and plan to invest in human-centric applications in the next 12 to 18 months. Seventy-six percent of respondents believe that building human-centric applications is more important than it was two years ago due to business considerations and cultural shifts.

So, what are these cultural shifts?

The survey showed that the main drivers of this prioritization are ever-changing user needs and increasing user expectations (56%), a rapid increase in digital interactions (56%), an increased focus on accessibility and inclusion by end users (47%) and the increased pervasiveness of AI and IoT (44%).

Interestingly, another significant driver of adoption was the increasing influence of Gen Z workers who are looking for inclusive employers (43%). This reveals that human-centric design isn't just a positive from a product standpoint — it could also help with employee retention and corporate reputation.

Challenges of Human-Centered Software Adoption

Despite acknowledging the rising importance of human-centric software development, barriers persist for many organizations. Ninety-eight percent said they were experiencing adoption challenges with human-centric design principles. These challenges included meeting customer demands (42%), complexity/lack of agility in the application development process (41%) and difficulty measuring whether something is really human-centric (38%).

Thirty percent cited a lack of tools/tech investment as a challenge, while 29% said they were experiencing a lack of cross-team collaboration during software development. Just 3% of those surveyed said they didn't encounter any of the challenges presented.

Retrofitting, or implementing modifications to existing software solutions, doesn't seem to be the answer to these challenges. Eighty-six percent of respondents said it was more difficult to retrofit inclusion and accessibility into existing applications.

These challenges are taking a toll: An average of just 59% of current applications were estimated to meet accessibility requirements. With more than a billion people worldwide living with a disability, organizations can no longer afford to market inaccessible applications. People with disabilities are over 50% more likely to face barriers to accessing digital and online services than those without disabilities, and with a wide range of accessible technologies now available, users will simply find solutions elsewhere.

Key Areas of Focus

More than half (56%) of survey participants said that investing in human-centric applications is an urgent need in the next 12-18 months. The most urgent need is training and skills development around accessibility (51%). There is also a need for increased collaboration between teams (46%) and finding cost-effective approaches for designing, developing and operating human-centric applications (45%).

Other areas of concern include working with partners and suppliers who prioritize human centricity (39%) and identifying metrics that show value and support for developing human-centric applications (38%).

Respondents also named some of the broader actions the industry could take to increase human-centered software adoption, and it seems that organizations are tepidly enthusiastic about the shift. Fifty-six percent said that further exploration into what optimal human design and accessibility look like is the most important, and 39% believed more regulation and higher accessibility standards would be the answer. These two responses speak to organizations' desire to delay taking action until they make sure they can get it right.

Human-Centered Design: A Win for Organizations and Users

Survey respondents were aware of the many benefits that can come from implementing human-centric design principles: Customer appeal (63%), increased market opportunity and new audiences (57%) and positive financial impacts (57%) were among the top benefits participants mentioned.

With governments and users marching toward a more accessible digital world, businesses will need to invest and prioritize human-centered software. By improving training, conducting internal testing and implementing cohesive design principles and tooling, organizations can create a more inclusive digital landscape.

Sara Faatz is Director, Technology Community Relations, at Progress
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