I am creating a training program for young children (aged between 12-15) to understand concept of human centred design. And when explaining “HUMAN CENTRED DESIGN”, it is easy to explain that it is the way of thinking in which humans, the users of systems hold central position and all systems, processes and machines are bent around the human needs and mental capacities - to give them the most comfortable user experience. This is understood and explained well.

Now what is reverse of Human Centred Design? Is that machine centred design? Ease of building cantered design or simply “non-human centred design”. I am not in the favour of using the last option because this definition dependent on the definition of human centred design. It would be similar to calling “day” as “day” but night as “absence of day”, which means night is just a comparative reverse and not an entity in itself.

There is an era coming ahead where IA (artificial intelligence) would also demand to be in the middle and centre of few processes. Example being auto-pilot of Tesla cars where machine's needs are put in the centre and entire system is build around it. Would that era and way of design be called "Machine Centred Design"? Is that opposite to "Human Entered Design"? If this is so, how would we call era of 70s and 80s where machines were built for users, yet users were still not central to their decision making.

Any thoughts on the subject are welcome.


I have received following answers on a different forum and I felt I should consolidate them here.

  • Design by default. The user experience follows the structure of the underlying technology, e.g. order history and billing are in separate databases which works well technically, but not so great when separated in the user interface. “Just use it how it came out of the box”

  • Design by mimicry. The user experience falls back on conventions from other products regardless of whether that’s right for your users. “Just copy what others have done”

  • Design by fiat. The user experience is based on personal preferences of organisational stakeholders. “Just do it my way, I know best”.

I find, "Functionality driven design", "Solution centred design" and "Designer centred design" are few terminologies that explain the opposite approaches to Human Centred Design. All these on their own explain an alternate approach to design and agreeing with @Devin, I think there is no one true opposite of this term.

  • 2
    Inhuman Dispersed Disorganization
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:40
  • 4
    I believe it is called the software industry.
    – dwkns
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 14:27
  • 2
    Alien centered design
    – Krebto
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 16:29
  • 2
    It's when you let the engineers control the whole project: so you can compare the original Mac GUI with its competitor at the time, MS DOS.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 19:20
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    self centered design
    – thomasyung
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 12:07

4 Answers 4


I'd argue that when it comes to computer systems there is an opposite, although there is no popular term for it. You may use:

System-centred or function-centred design

I've been there, as a fresh developer back in the 90s, when specifying the requirements for a system was an affair of spelling out what the system should do. Typically phrased as 'The system should...'.

There was no regards to the fact humans will be using the system. So long the functional requirements were met - you're good to go.

A good example for this, albeit not a computer in every nowadays language, is the old calculator:

An old basic calculator

If you wanted to calculate the square root of 20 + 5, you had to first type 20 + 5 and then square root it. It does the job, but you had to know the quirks and keep the order of mathematical operation in mind.

Similarly, pre-Google Yahoo (and oddly, way after Google prevailed), or Microsoft Office until recently all ticked functional requirements, but had little regard to the humans using the system.

More advance modern calculators let you type an equation as seen on paper, and would show you the formula as you type it:

A more advance calculator, with a line showing the typed equation.

The history

Talking of computers, in the Alan Turing sense, these have had the following phases (reference pending):

  • Functional: Where the aim was to make them work, like a mechanical device that would add two 8-bit binary numbers.
  • Reliable: Where the aim was to have them work without breaking or blowing.
  • Performance: Have computers work quick enough to have a commercial value.

Once we've ticked all these boxes, it was around the 80s where the low-acceptance of computer systems became a real concern. And it is roughly around that time when human-neglect was flagged as the cause, and HCID as the solution.

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    I can relate with what you're saying. Your term "function-centric design" is also something that I arrived at after some thinking. Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 12:35

There's not an opposite

Previous to HCI, design was divided by its specific frameworks and disciplines, like industrial design, software design, graphic design, architectural design and so on.

By adding the humanistic disciplines and methods to measure the interactions between humans and the object to be designed, HCI adds a whole new dimension that involves all those previous methods, frameworks and disciplines, only that enhanced and interconnected with each other.

Thus, HCI is an evolution over an old way to do things, and has no opposite (at least right now). In other words: it's a change of paradigm, an evolutionary one.

To give you an easy example: a car is an evolution in the way we move, and it evolved from old carriages by adding technology. And of course, there's not an opposite to car. Same as there's not an opposite to the concept of a rounded Earth over a flat Earth


Human Centered Design (HCD) is a process and a way of working with others that leads to higher quality designed products and services. I am not sure if saying the opposite of “human" is the correct way to frame the opposite of HCD. The old ways of creating products and services were often done in silos with minimal contact with the actual users of the products and/or services. In simple terms, HCD injects the user/human into the process right from the beginning all the way to the end. Now, if machines are to considered as the user of products/services, then I would consider machine centered design to be the correct definition. At this point in time, machines/robots are not consumers of products/services. They are not “entities” that can think and function on their own (yet). So if you really need to have a definition of what is opposite of HCD, you only need to look at what was done prior to HCD, which is the “siloed" approach to design.

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    Philosophically speaking, I'd strongly argue against the concept of machines not being entities for which we design. ask any SEO if in doubt.
    – Devin
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 15:30

While I agree that there is technically no opposite, given your audience I would consider an approach of explaining around user-led design versus engineering led design. In this approach, engineering led design is all about what can we do, how can we do it, move on to the next problem. User-led design is all about understanding what your users want and need to do, what they are capable of, and designing around their needs.

It's a caricature in a sense, but it then lets you segue into the need for both: engineers coming up with cool ideas based on what the technology can do, and UX designers understanding what people want to do and are capable of.

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