Rave

XIII.1 January + February 2006
Page: 64
Digital Citation

It’s all about the user… isn’t it?


Authors:
Jonathan Arnowitz, Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson

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User-centered design (UCD) is the "be all, end all" of design. Cater to the user and you will win. That is what we all believe, right? End- user research is the way to a successful product, right? Then why is it that design schools all over the world, business management schools all over the world, and computer science schools all over the world do not so much as even mention the term UCD, even under the most promising circumstances?

Design schools teach their students to develop an aesthetic that will communicate well and will be successful in the market place. Design schools scoff at validation. In serious disbelief, one designer asked, "What fool ever heard of usability testing a brochure or a print ad?" The designer's aim is to make something desirable.

The business-management school likewise strives for business success through organizational management and understanding the market. Ask the user? One MBA professor once said, "The user does what we say, and they want what we want them to want." Clearly they teach confidence in business-management school.

Computer scientists strive for clean, bug-free code and sane and elegant system architecture. What about the user? As one system architect said, "The user just has to learn; they just have to learn the manual. Our software is just too powerful for them to understand." His retort when prompted about the value of HCI: "Usability is non-existent! Ask a dozen designers for a usable solution and you get a dozen answers."

User-centered design points everything toward converging on the user, but life just isn't like that. Designers want to trust their instincts; businessmen want to trust the business case; and computer scientists strive to build something bug-free and rock solid.

So before we sling that term loser-centered design, let's make sure the user isn't the loser here. Everyone brings something to the table. No, a design isn't of much value if it doesn't lead to a profitable or otherwise sustainable product. No, a design isn't going to be of much help if the product crashes all the time. Of course the design will not be of much help if it isn't desirable; or even worse, if it creates a negative emotional response. And, of course, a design isn't of much use if it isn't usable.

Somewhere in the sum of all this dogma is a truth. "User-centered design" is both a concept and a technique. User-experience design is the larger context, the greater design goal. Focusing on the user experience is the only known design strategy that brings in all the stakeholders and values their input collectively. When smart designers, business folks, engineers, and usability professionals get together, they can make magic happen. To be sure, the resulting product reflects who had the upper-hand in the project; but in the end, a collaborative approach to experience design leads to successful products. Take a look at your favorite successful interactive product—we'll bet it's the result of tight focus and keen interest in the user experience.—<eic>

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©2006 ACM  1072-5220/06/0100  $5.00

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