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The HCD Practitioner's Journey
Brian Flaherty | Reading time: about 12 min

This article is based on a research project conducted by NN/g 

In 2021, Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) — world leaders in research-based user experience — began a long-term research project to better understand human-centered design (HCD) and how practitioners utilize it in everyday work and its effects on project outcomes.  

NN/g began by establishing an HCD maturity model and realized that the maturity of individual team members and their experience, exposure, and mastery of HCD were essential to the overall team’s (or organization’s) ability to effectively utilize HCD methodologies. Catalysts were identified to help better understand the relationship between practitioner abilities and team performance. Catalysts consisted of individual practitioners whose HCD mastery positively influenced HCD practices in their teams or organizations. After conversations with the catalysts about their experience (and the experience of those they teach and guide), NN/g hypothesized that HCD practitioners share roughly the same learning journey, despite different backgrounds and contexts. 

NN/g began by conducting a large-scale survey of more than 1,000 practitioners and aimed at investigating respondents’ experience with HCD. Responses were classified into learning stages based on the self-reported HCD exposure, experience, primary activities, and biggest challenges. This process, combined with talking to hundreds of HCD practitioners each year at the NN/g user-experience conference, helped establish a set of unifying stages that most practitioners encounter while learning HCD. The stages include: newcomeradopterleader, and grandmaster



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