Is there a difference between "Goal directed design" (GDD) and "User-centered design" (UCD)? I'm confused. I have been searching a lot and can't find the difference in between them.

Even the processes are quite similar:

  1. Empathy/Analysis/Research
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

Change the words but the design process is basically the same. They both have the user as the key center point.

What is the difference in between them?

  • I think they use a pretty common approach, also described in the Design Sprint (medium.com/dallas-design-sprints/…). I believe the question about how they differentiate must include other aspects; eg: rather than the process, the objectives could be different.
    – Adriano
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 6:28

2 Answers 2


While UCD focuses on the user (and considers goals and tasks), GDD focuses on the goal of the user.

GDD asks why the user must perform some activities or tasks, in order to understand what value or purpose they have for the user.


The short of the story is that they have a lot of overlap. What was called Information Architecture in the late 90s (Don Norman, Morville, Rosenfeld and of course Jakob Nielsen) became UX in the early 2000. The writings of Jesse Garrett as well as the adoption of Agile methodology created an explosion of ideas on how best to approach the design and implementation of software.

We quickly went away from using top-down waterfall software design methodology where BAs created use cases and Functional Requirement Designs that were discussed and signed off by business with little or no interaction between business and developer (and even less with the end user of the application).

All these ideas - continual testing; Agile methodology; Minimal Viable Products; came to the forefront in a short period of time. A key reason for this is that for the first time software was not limited to specific business or gaming based packages but available to everyone.

GDD puts an emphasis on understanding the needs and goals of users and then using these goals as the starting point. It merges with Agile design's "As a [x] I want to [y] in order to [z]." A key portion of the union is that in GDD one is using the user's feedback to arrive at the user stories and acceptance criteria as opposed to using the business user's.

And what makes GDD different than User-Centered Design? In practice nothing. I suppose, if you're taking a course then the instructor would want you to be able to point to which people and books/articles popularized one approach as opposed to another.

Ultimately the goal is putting your self in the shoes of the user.

  • 1
    While I think this is a great answer and mostly agree with it, I don't consider they're the same, but they have their own set of specificities. I mean, while your answer would apply to most cases, I think there are some aspects of UX that may not be goals (accessibility, ergonomics, new product introduction, some research) while others are usually related to goals (IA, user journeys, personas, usability, CRO strategies and research, etcetera). Anyways, don't pay me much attention, just playing some devil's advocate here ;)
    – Devin
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 21:26
  • 1
    @Devin - those are good points. And, as a side-note I'm one of those who prefer the term Information Architecture. It makes it easier to explain the role to business people. "Would you design your house by with use cases and FRDs or would you think it may be better to go from discussion to rough sketch to models AND then go to the engineering specs so that the contractors can complete the project."
    – Mayo
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 22:05

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