Have you ever been told that by doing human-centred work you’re stepping on someone else’s toes?

I have heard it a number of times. More and more people are exploring the apparent overlaps between human-centred approaches and other disciplines.

Overlapping responsibilities can be a big problem if you’re perceived to be encroaching on someone else’s territory. But looking closer at the comparisons between user experience and other disciplines, I’ve noticed something interesting that suggests overlaps are not a weakness of human-centred approaches, but a strength.

User experience and…

First, let’s explore some comparisons between user experience and other disciplines.

Product management

Nielsen Norman Group’s Kara…


I recently wrote about why content is more important than code, but how neither of them are as important as people’s needs.

Code serves content. Content serves people’s underlying needs.

User needs ⟶ Content ⟶ Code

In the course of writing that post, I realised that this sequence can be extended further.

It reminded me of the concept of pace layers.

Pace layers explained


It is difficult to find a phrase that exactly describes my work and the way I approach it.

I’ve started to talk about human-centred approaches. This post explains what I mean by that.

Human-centred approaches include user experience, service design, design thinking, interaction design, lean thinking… Anything that puts humans at the centre of our decision-making.

The names of disciplines like user experience and service design often confuse people. The word design itself is loaded with unhelpful connotations.

Notably, each of these disciplines can also be pursued in ways that are not human-centred.

I use the phrase human-centred approaches intentionally…


The printing press was the most important technology for the distribution of content — until it wasn’t.

Now print is seen as increasingly irrelevant, usurped by digital distribution methods.

We know this. And yet some people still obsess more about the technology than the content.

My response to a recent conversation on Twitter appeared to create some confusion. It seemed as if I had to persuade some content designers that content is more important than technology.

So I thought I’d take the time to explain what I mean by that.

But first…

What I don’t mean when I say content is more important than code

A focus on technology is understandable. Most…


Over the past year, I have worked to re-shape the team I lead at the University of Edinburgh, hiring people into new content design roles.

(I say new roles, although strictly speaking we evolved them from existing but outdated job titles and descriptions.)

Content design is a relatively new discipline that pulls together complementary editorial, user research and design thinking skills into one role. Sarah Winters is widely credited with pioneering the discipline while at the Government Digital Service. Content design has quickly gained a foothold in many organisations.

Sarah Winters has moved on to running her own consultancy, but…


The images in this blog post have been compressed for publication on the web. But I have also created a high-quality PDF.

Note: My scanner has made some of the stains look rather more vivid in colour than they do to the naked eye.

In my post about our kitchen renovation, I mentioned that we’d found something interesting under the floorboards. It was this booklet, a “Boys’ Outfitters” catalogue for James Middlemass & Co.


At the Service Design in Government conference in March, I found myself chatting to a nice person who wasn’t a service designer himself. I don’t remember the details, but I recall that he seemed reasonably senior and worked for a local authority. He was at the conference to learn more about this service design stuff he’d heard about.

I introduced myself as a user experience manager, because that’s my job title. This instigated an interesting conversation about what user experience is.

He told me his department was trying to hire a user experience designer for a particular project. He said…


I’m pleased to be speaking at UCD Gathering, a new virtual conference taking place on 15 and 16 October.

A service design approach to improving student experience

I was originally supposed to be giving this talk physically at UX Scotland, but of course that conference has had to be deferred.

It has been replaced by UCD Gathering, which is designed to bring together communities from a number of conferences covering user experience and service design. I’m pleased to see this new conference breaking down that unnecessary silo between the two labels.

Given the condensed programme, I’m also surprised and pleased…


In March I attended the fantastic Service Design in Government conference. Each year it brings together service design practitioners from across the public sector and beyond, from across the UK and beyond.

Remember those days, when you could go to a conference? At the time, coronavirus was looming on the horizon, but the true scale of the crisis to come wasn’t clear to many. Handshakes were few and far between, but the buffet food was still in abundant supply.

Much of this post was written in the week or two after the conference, before lockdown began. (The existing draft literally…


One of the curious features of lockdown life is how little time I seem to have. Work is busy, life is busy, and the weekends fly by with barely any time to think. You’d think the lack of a commute would at least give something, but seemingly not.

But when I’m compiling these posts, I’m realising that it’s all a matter of priorities. Running for miles is in. Making intricate models of buildings is in. Chilling out is not in.

But these are the projects that keep us sane in challenging times.

This roundup of month 2’s lockdown projects includes…

Duncan Stephen

Pursuits in human-centred approaches — https://duncanstephen.net/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store