Designing for Life: Exploring the Human-Centered Approach

By: Elizabeth Arsenault, Sustainability Consultant

Putting People First: The Essence of Human-Centered Design (HCD)

Today, there’s no denying the profound influence the built environment has on the human experience. Through human-centered design, we unlock the potential to shape spaces that uplift and empower people, revealing their inherent strengths and capabilities. 

Human-centered design (HCD) is a design method guiding the creation of built environments tailored to the unique experiences of their users. It’s about more than just constructing structures; it’s about prioritizing the needs and preferences of the people who will inhabit them. This approach aims to accommodate various activities and user groups, emphasizing accessibility and equity throughout.  

In human-centered communities, design decisions prioritize the human experience across various aspects, including buildings, transportation networks, and open spaces. It involves promoting modes of transportation such as biking and walking, ensuring that gathering spots are conveniently accessible for all community needs, and integrating natural beauty into the surroundings. This holistic approach extends to parks designed with inviting features like benches, trees, and food vendors, as well as building exteriors crafted to facilitate human interaction. The overarching goal is to create environments that significantly enhance human well-being and experience. 


Building Green, Living Green: Sustainability in HCD:  

HCD considers the long-term environmental impact of physical spaces. Sustainable design principles, such as energy efficiency, the use of local materials, stormwater collection, and resilience, are just a few of the measures considered during the design process to minimize the ecological footprint of new construction. By prioritizing user needs and sustainable behaviors, we extend the lifespan of the entire building. Therefore, HCD approaches, rooted in collaboration, can drive the creation of environmentally friendly designs. These designs not only meet user expectations but also contribute to a more sustainable and responsible future, ensuring enjoyment for generations to come (Fiving Future Institute LFA Course).  

Mural from Skyglass (2024).


From Spaces to Smiles: Enhancing Well-Being through HCD: 

Human-centered spaces are designed to promote the physical, mental, and behavioral well-being of the occupant. Features such as community gathering locations, biophilic design, and opportunities for physical activity encourage healthier lifestyles and contribute to overall happiness and satisfaction. Additionally, by prioritizing comfort, safety, and accessibility, human-centered spaces create environments where people feel valued and empowered, leading to improved mental and emotional health. The incorporation of these principles is especially crucial, in healthcare settings, where design profoundly affects patient outcomes. 


Designing for All: Inclusivity and Equity in Human-Centered Spaces:  

Human-centered design aims to create inclusive and equitable spaces that are accessible and welcoming to all individuals (Living Future Institute LFA Course). This is achieved by considering the diverse needs and experiences of different occupants. This may involve designing spaces that accommodate people with disabilities, providing multilingual signage, ensuring affordability, or incorporating cultural elements that reflect the project’s sense of place.  

The Institute for Human Centered Design uses the following principles to outline the characteristics of Universal Design.  

  1. Equitable Use: The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a broad range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple, Intuitive Use: Users can easily understand and navigate the design, regardless of their experience, knowledge, language proficiency, or level of focus.
  4. Perceptible Information: The design effectively conveys essential information to users, regardless of ambient conditions or sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort: Users can operate the design efficiently and comfortably, with minimal fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach & Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

 Ultimately, human-centered design promotes a sense of belonging and fosters social cohesion by creating spaces where everyone feels included.  


Leading the Way in HCD Solutions: 

The built environment significantly impacts human performance and quality of life. At Rushing, now IMEG, we recommend design decisions based on thorough research and evaluating human needs, while engaging stakeholders, occupants, and communities surrounding our projects.  

Our team leverages human-centered design principles to create environments that prioritize human needs, enhance well-being, and foster sustainability. This encompasses a range of strategies, including incorporating rooftop and green roof spaces, designing courtyard-focused entrances, facilitating biophilic design workshops, promoting social equity and accessibility, and implementing third-party certifications like LBC, Fitwel, and WELL, among others.  

Arista (2022).

Whether it’s designing inclusive spaces, integrating biophilic elements, or achieving third-party certifications, our team is here to support you. Contact us today to explore how we can collaborate on your next project!