21 June 2011

Contention around user-centred design

In Interactions, John Zimmerman writes under the title (maybe not his?), 'Killing off user-centred design' that 'Not every project deserves upfront user research. Let me say this again. Not every project is deserving of the time and effort of upfront user research.'

I'm not sure that this is such a dramatic assertion that it warrants the repetition. The practitioners I know don't do research unless it's warranted; they look for ways to deliver clients the insight they need in the most efficient way. For a more nuanced explication watch Jared Spool's talk, Anatomy of a Design Decision, at UserInterface15 in 2010. Spool makes the distinction between the research needed when designing for people similar to oneself (the Apple or Basecamp scenario where, as a user of the product one is designing, no up front user research is needed) or repeat designing in a domain with which one is familiar, to designing experiences for people who differ considerably from you. That's where the research is needed: to understand what gives a good experience, and where there are gaps.

In all cases, though, I'd say testing design as it develops is needed. Even designing for people like you, there may be assumptions that will be verified or challenged by other people trying out your work.

Incidentally, Spool's talk (illustrated above) has meant I can no longer take seriously any school or college brochure that shows (in his words) 'girls under trees'.

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