What User-Centered Design is Good For


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Brief talk given at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2010 meeting.

Published in: Design
  • @dansaffer I sure will, and thanks for the exchange in this somewhat awkward space :).
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  • @aliset.go I'm arguing that certain types of design approaches work better for certain products. And, like I say on slide 26, that UCD is best for evolutionary, not revolutionary, improvements to products. That's the whole point of this deck. If you disagree, I suggest finding a better forum than a comments thread to make a longer argument. I look forward to reading it.
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  • @dansaffer How would the design style determine whether a designer comes up with a disruptive idea or not? Disruptive ideas could happen after observing users and seeing their needs (UCD design style), or when designing without explicitly observing users (Genius design style). Observing users doesn’t remove a designer’s ability to come up with disruptive ideas. And really, the end users' lack of ability to come up with disruptive ideas is totally immaterial, since good user research doesn’t ask users what they want. If a designer doesn’t have a good understanding of the users’ needs or goals, observe them (UCD). If the designer already has an implicit understanding of the users’ needs and goals because of prior experience or as a result of being in the intended audience, then there’s no need to observe users (“Genius”). Either way, the designer can come up with an innovative, disruptive product idea.
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  • @aliset.go It's not just that they can't give you a new design, it's that they can't imagine a different (disruptive) product. And why should they? It's not their jobs to. It's the designer's. It's not a concern; it's just reality, and a minus for UCD design style (as compared to, say, Genius).
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  • Thanks Dan. But why would we be concerned if end users can't come up with new product ideas - that's the job of the designers, right?
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What User-Centered Design is Good For

  1. 1. What User-Centered Design is Good For Dan Saffer, Kicker Studio @odannyboy @kickerstudio
  2. 2. Dilemma: Most of the products we use, including many we love, weren’t made using UCD techniques.
  3. 3. There are five major approaches to designing products.
  4. 4. Approaches = Ways to Answer Questions When we have to make a design decision in the middle of a project (or even when first deciding the product strategy), how do we go about making that decision?
  5. 5. User-Centered Design Focus on User Needs and GOALS. Designer is translator of user needs and goals. Users guide the product decisions.
  6. 6. User-Centered Design Activity-Centered Design Focus is on the tasks and activities that need to be accomplished. Users are the performers of activities. Role of the designer is to provide tools to accomplish actions.
  7. 7. Data-Driven Design User-Centered Design Activity-Centered Design Focus is on watching which provided option is preferred. Users are sources of behavioral data. Designers are creators of options.
  8. 8. Data-Driven Design User-Centered Design Systems Design Activity-Centered Design Focus is on the components of the system: sensor, comparator, actuator. Users set the goals of the system. Designers make sure all the parts are in place.
  9. 9. Data-Driven Design User-Centered Design Systems Design Activity-Centered Design Genius Design Focus is on the skill and wisdom of the designer. Users are a source of validation (often via usability testing). Designer is the source of inspiration.
  10. 10. Data-Driven Design User-Centered Design Systems Design Activity-Centered Design Where Genius Design Most Design Happens Of course, in practice, we’re constantly weaving between the different approaches.
  11. 11. The Dirty Little Secret All of these methods rely on the skill of the designer in one way or another.
  12. 12. No matter how many users you talk to, no matter how much data you collect, at the end of the day, a human has to decide.
  13. 13. User Input + Designer = Design Input can come AFTER the product is out, of course. And that input can be disastrous.
  14. 14. No amount of data analysis can make up for a lack of talent. Jeffrey Zeldman Takes the talent of the designer to determine what the results of a UCD process should be.
  15. 15. Users (and their data) should be there to inform designers, not substitute for them. The purpose of UCD should be to bolster, enlighten, or confirm designer’s judgement.
  16. 16. Many people suggest that "you guys should optimize the UI to match the feature usage data." ...The only problem? We've already designed that product, and it's called Office 2003. Jensen Harris on Office 2007
  17. 17. Research can be wrong. The conclusions you can draw from research can be wrong.
  18. 18. Just as one example, with small sample sizes (which is usually what you’re working with with UCD), you can prove just about anything. Blue cars get hit by rocks more often than other cars, therefore we should never paint our cars blue.
  19. 19. Some design approaches work better for different problems than for others.
  20. 20. Activity-centered Design • Good for intense, focused, complex activities • Refining task flows • Making actions more efficient • Not good for big picture rethinking • Can de-skill users
  21. 21. Data-driven Design • Good for existing designs • Incremental improvements • Fine tuning of a design • Not good at all for big picture rethinking • Mind numbingly tedious • Can end up with a real dog’s breakfast
  22. 22. Systems Design • Good for large-scale designs • Systems of Systems • Models for large teams • Not good for small projects • Very analytical
  23. 23. Genius Design • Good for rapid projects • Possible to get a “purer” vision and more radical jumps in products • Flexible • Not good for inexperienced designers • Need domain knowledge • Can be very, very wrong
  24. 24. User-centered Design • Understand unfamiliar domains • Empathy with users—focus on people • Can catch problems (and opportunities) up front • Hard for people to evaluate (and generate) new product ideas—Ford’s “Faster Horse” analogy • Are you focused on the RIGHT users? • User goals can be slippery • Does it scale?
  25. 25. The trick is to determine what approach works best for the project you’re on...even for just part of the project. Honest appraisal of your own skills, what’s the problem is (do you understand the users for instance?)
  26. 26. Theory: UCD is best for evolutionary design within an established market/category.
  27. 27. Great ideas can’t be tested. Only mediocre ideas can be tested. George Lois
  28. 28. Thanks. dan@kickerstudio.com @odannyboy on Twitter http://kickerstudio.com @kickerstudio on Twitter
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