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We have several types of design methodologies, which include behavior-centered design, task-centered design, goal-directed design, and others. However, one of the most popular ones is the activity-centered design.

In this article, Activity-Centered Design Methodology, we will discuss in detail what this type of design method is about, how it is utilized, and its goal and purpose.

This article will also discuss the following topics:

What is an activity-centered approach?

The activity-focused design, or also called human centered design, is about the actions people need or want to take to reach a goal. When designing a light control app, for example, an activity-focused process will help identify and design the steps a user should do to connect the lights, switch them on and off, and so on. 

There are several activity-focused systems when it comes to UX design, which include task analysis, jobs to be done, activity theory, and interaction design. Each of these design tasks provides a different way of understanding the problems, perform different insights or ideas, and may result in different design decisions.

However, each one has one thing in common, which centers in the activity, or on what people do and how they do it to achieve a task or goal.

The goal of activity-center design

The activity centered design is user centered. It is a method that is user centered or it focuses on the efforts around the user.

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Below are the steps that are expected in the human centered design:

Step 1: Define the users

The systems start by defining who the users are, which includes the users characteristics, demographics, preferences, ánd so on, including the users documents such as personas.

Step 2: User analysis

The users’ needs are analyzed through methods such as surveys, interviews, card sorting, and so on.

Step 3: Design iteration

Finally, a design is created and iterated based on those wants and needs. The most important aspect of this type of design is to know your users. The goal is to create a way for users to complete tasks or activities in a way that is almost completely customized to their preferences, wants, and needs.

Activity focused design vs human centered design

One of the central tenets of design thinking is attention to users’ needs. As user bases expand to include ever more diverse groups, building consumer products that adequately address all their needs becomes a greater challenge.

The human-centered design focuses on the user while an alternative model called activity center design targets the function products are designed to complete.

Disadvantages of a human centered design

Appeals to a small number of users

User center design has some disadvantages too based on several critics. which say that tailoring a product for a specific set of users is too niche and will make the design weaker and less usable for everyone else.

Too focused on the user design aspect

The user centered design also puts too much focus on the users, and not enough focus on the activity at hand. While it is important to listen to users in context, it is a good designer’s job to know when diverse user requests warrant further investigation, and when they are simply bells and whistles. Implementing unfiltered user suggestions can compromise or complicate the quality of the design.

Many things have been created without focusing on the user, but instead focusing on the intended activity for the product, which is what the activity or interaction design is for.

Advantages of activity center or interaction design systems

When the product is built to accomplish an activity or set of activities well, users will learn to adapt to the product and the product will work for the majority of users.

Like in most methodologies, the interaction designs are continually iterated and improved based on feedback from users and personal experiences.

The activity focused design method is all about the activity and it considereds interaction as the highest level of the design approach. The activity is then made up of tasks, of which each task has one or more actions, and each action has one or more operations.

Referred to as the “activity theory” by Robert Hoekman Jr, who coined a document for identifying activities in a system called the activity grid, which outlines all of the activities and their subsidiary parts based on this theory.

One example of the Activity Theory can be seen below with the activity of listening to music in the car:

  • Activity: Listen to music while driving
  • Tasks:  Choose a Radio Station, Play a CD, Listen to an IPod play list
  • Actions: (Choose a radio station) Start the radio, scan for stations
  • Operations: (Scan for Stations) Press the Scan button on the radio once.

Regardless of the methodology chosen, it is important to remember to remain flexible. A design methodology is not a strict set of rules, but merely a guideline for creating a design. Each methodology will have its own strengths and weaknesses and no one method will be the sole contributor to success. It is up to the designer to iterate and improve not only their design but their chosen methodology. Each individual must create a balanced method that will work for them, based on the constraints and needs of the design challenges at hand.

Drawbacks of Activity-Centered Design

Has the tendency to overlook users from smaller market or group

Below are the 7 precepts of a universal or inclusive design:

  • Equitable Use
  • Flexibility in Use
  • Simple, Intuitive Use
  • Perceptible Information
  • Tolerance for Error
  • Low Physical Effort
  • Size & Space for Approach & Use

The main idea behind these seven guidelines is to ensure designs make people’s lives easier and are available to everyone regardless of background, former knowledge, or physical and mental capability. 

When you focus on the activity, it’s all too easy to lose sight of people from smaller or just underrepresented groups.

Can result to lack of vision from designers

Shortsightedness and lack of vision on the part of designers can also negatively impact the appeal and effectiveness of the activity centered design. The tools developed by designers can fundamentally change the activity they’re meant to help with. If the designers don’t foresee the potential for change in the activity, then their solutions are very likely to have limited applicability. 

Designers can underestimate the users

In the same case, designers can underestimate or essentialize users in the activity centered design process.

The solution to both problems above is similar: leave open the possibility for the user or the activity to change and make sure you have metrics in place so that you can recognize when it does.

Sometimes the users and other people involved in the activity are the ones trailblazing. Other times, innovation arises organically as new tools or new ways to use existing tools are invented according to their attributes. 

So which one of these approaches should be used? Acitivity focused or user focused design process? Is there some kind of test that will tell you for sure when to use user-centered design or activity-centered design? In this case, there’s no definitive answer that covers every scenario – creatives should be prepared to use both. 


To summarize, in activity focused design, the core unit of analysis is activity or what people do and how they do it to achieve a goal. This includes the four main steps below:

  • Determine the goal of a person.
  • Determine the tasks that a person would have to perform to reach those goals. 
  • Document the goals and tasks. 
  • Analyze the goals and tasks for ways to improve outcomes.

Remember, that framing is important since it changes the way we think about design and ultimately how we actually do design.

Activity focused design is about framing design in terms of human activity. And unlike user-centered design, which frames design in terms of the specific people who will use it or information architecture which frames design in terms of information.

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Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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