A User-Centered design process understands that any single product is only one component in the complex life experience of the person who will use it. As designers, we are creating an experience that will fit into and affect the on-going narrative of the user before, during and after they interface with it.
User Centered Design starts with "why" and "what if" questions, asked from the user's point of view. Then, creative answers are explored and refined.
"Why do I have to always be sitting when I am at my desk"
"What if my desk could be sometimes high and sometimes low?
"Why do I have to take my eyes off the road when I'm driving and want to change the radio station?"
"What if I could tell my radio to do things with my voice?"
User Centered design also means developing products that can be produced in scale-able quantity with consistent quality. This is called "Design For Manufacture" for physical products and "Cross Platform Design" for media.
The end product contains all of the designer's answers to the "why" and "what if" questions, their many refinements and attention to manufacturability. Its ultimate value is directly related to the effort put into each step along the way.
Failure is an integral part of the design process. Many problem definitions and concepts will fail to influence the design. Only some of the forms, features and functions will be incorporated into the final product. But this process of exploration and narrowing is at the heart of great design. If you are not failing you are probably not innovating.
DEFINE: Describe the design problem or opportunity by asking "why" questions from the points of view of potential users. Then, organize and prioritize those descriptions into a narrower set that is precise, manageable and most important to get right.
EXPLORE: Utilize sketching and rough physical prototypes to explore the "what if" questions; both outside-the-box (divergent) and pragmatic (convergent). Create new hybrid ideas by combining the most promising. Then, organize and prioritize those into a narrower set that is precise, manageable and most impactful.
REFINE: Create refined 2D visuals and physical prototypes. Then test them with people that you hope will want to own or use your product or media. Repeat this cycle as many times as necessary to achieve validation: that is… a majority of test subjects saying "yes" that has value to me.
BUILD: Let loose your creation to the world in multiple, identical copies. For media, this may mean distributing via television, the web or print. For products, this may mean manufacturing in factories then distributing through stores.