Monday, December 24, 2007

Redefining User-Centered Design, Part 1

The role of User Centered Design in corporate designs ...

"Somewhere out there is a company that uses a strict, traditional, user-centered design (UCD) process. It works something like this:

First, a business analyst or interaction designer defines a problem that needs solving. Then, he determines who the audience might be for the solution, locates and interviews people who represent the target audience, and develops a small set of personas (write-ups about archetypal users, usually complete with photos, names, and an overview of the users’ goals). He uses these personas to construct scenarios (hypothetical use cases in which these personas interact with the product in various ways) and eventually starts the design work.

From what I can tell, however, the company that is truly able to adhere to this process exists somewhere in a mythical land with an enormous castle on a hill and a beautiful princess in need of rescue. Yet, somehow, many designers and management teams believe that these elements of user-centered design will earn them superior products and ever-elusive customer loyalty.

This process—and others like it—may make consultants a whole lot of money, but within a corporation struggling to create decent web applications, desktop products, and services for customers, it’s unrealistic at best and ridiculous at worst. In fact, no company I’ve worked for, or with, has been able to stick to a user-centered design process, for a myriad reasons.

As such, the point I’m going to argue in this three-part article is this:

User-centered design is broken, and should be thrown out.

In addition, I’ll show you how I’ve gotten around UCD’s shortcomings with an approach that I’ve used on many projects and which has proven extremely effective and efficient. So effective and efficient, in fact, that I continue to use it in my company, Miskeeto, and it continually saves my clients money.
The Problems With User-Centered Design

Before we look at solutions, however, it’s important to understand the problems.

First, UCD takes a lot of time. User research, user interviews, persona and scenario creation, etc., all take time that most internal design teams simply don’t have the luxury of spending.

Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering, in fact, recently held a virtual seminar titled, "Building Robust Personas in 30 Days or Less." While this was intended as good news to the design world, the in-house design teams I’ve worked with would cringe at the idea of spending 30 days of a design schedule to perform user research and produce what are essentially throwaway deliverables.

Why? Because most design projects don’t have 30-day timelines in total, let alone 30 days to burn prior to doing any actual design work?"    (Continued via Peachpit,Robert Hoekman, Jr.)    [Usability Resources]

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