User-centered design hugs you back

 

 

user_centered_design_process

(Snazzy graphic courtesy of Daniel Kim)

We’ve talked a bit about user experience, so far, specifically with the 10 promises of user experience design, but at the core of UX is the dedication to the philosophy of User-Centered Design (UCD), and that’s the key ingredient to getting UX off the ground at most organizations.

UCD at a high level is an ongoing, iterative process that requires planning, research, design, adaptation and measurement, basically on an infinite loop throughout the life of a product or service. I won’t even say that an organization needs to be dedicated to it operationally, let alone have an operationally-mature UCD practice in place, but embracing the philosophy is the starting point.

But… wait… Actually, before I go any further, I’m getting ahead of myself and need to step back…

Embracing the philosophy of UCD is important for one specific kind of organization, a type of organization that falls into what Paul Boag called in his excellent book, Digital Adaptation, the “pre-web” organization. The pre-web organization is what we’re most familiar with at USAGE, that’s because “post-web” organizations were born thinking web and mobile-first; UCD is built into the fabric of these organizations, so there’s little we can say about them for this article. Instead, we’ll focus on the pre-web organization, as there are many lifetimes of work to be done there.

These pre-web organizations, very slowly, are getting the joke: A great user experience pays. Disney taught us this, Apple taught us this, Zappos taught us this and so, organically, organizations have learned to adopt this themselves. Adoption is hard, because adoption means a user-centric perspective. Coca Cola didn’t ask people what kinds of ingredients people wanted, they gave them what they were selling, but learned a valuable lesson with New Coke. Henry Ford introduced nearly a dozen models of cars, before the Model T, the others were too expensive for the average person… While they might not have started off being user-centric, their success would depend on this critical pivot.

As I write this, though, I’m reminded of the Nielsen Norman Group article, “UX Without User Research Is Not UX, specifically, the area of the article called “Paying UX Lip Service”. This line really says a lot about current state of UX at most organizations. Folks can talk about it, praise it, even evangelize for it but the actual work of organizational UX is no small undertaking and poses unique challenges. Fortunately, that’s where we at USAGE can help.

The first step for any organization is spreading the idea of a user-centered design approach. At a recent O’Reilly Design Conference, Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer at 3M pointed out an equation that really underscored, in a quite manageable way, what’s required to begin changing an organization: “The square root of employees is the number of ambassadors you need for transformation.” So with math not being one of my strong suits I went to work finding a square root calculator to figure out if his anecdote matched my experience, and sure enough it did, it matched our experience at USAGE exactly. So, for example, a company with a thousand employees would need roughly 32 ambassadors to advocate for transformation.

When we work with any organization we immediately go to work figuring out what the feeling is around the idea of a user-centered design approach or how knowledgeable an organization is about UCD or even just researching their users. Most organizations like the idea, after all what’s not to like about getting to know your users and then giving them what they want. Beyond the heady terminology a user-centered approach is really just taking care of your users. Designing something for your users without their involvement is like hugging somebody who doesn’t want to be hugged, user-centered design hugs you back.

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