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[placeholder] centered design

Nowadays design is centered around a lot of things, mostly the user but in my 12 years of working as a designer I have encountered some new streams of design centring. Most software companies will state that their products feature a user centered design, but the only user they connected with (if any) are internal testers, who clearly are not users but employees on the companies payroll.

User centered design is easier said then done. To do user centered design, you will have to actively and constantly engage with your audience, this is a continuos process. It takes a lot of time and even more preparations when you want to set it up correctly. It also takes loads of dedication and commitment to encourage your audience to work closely with you. These communities need to be built, and social media is a good place to do so. New users might need guidance when looping through a products learning curve, this can also be a reason to connecting with your audience.

Since user centered design is a hot topic that is way from accurate in most situations, I want to share some of my experiences from within the field, so here it goes!

Client centered design
This happens often when you work with clients most of the time, they will call you up stating they have enough budget to tap a new target audience. Great! Since it is mostly marketing people that think audiences are reached through budgets, you can get a long way just going with the flow and slanging out marketing bingo lingo. It just so happens that this client knows all the ins and outs of their new target audience and mostly you end up cloning another app or website with some added new hipster features few people will use.

But as most designers will know the clients image of that new target audience is far from realistic, and this new shiny project is very likely to fail instead of hitting the clients targets. This often results in a product that is unable to challenge or exceed its competitors. Sure, everybody wants a calculator app supporting gestures. It might not be worth all your efforts, but together you will make gazillions!

Requirement centered design
We all know well written requirements kick ass, every now and then you run into requirement engineers documenting features like if we do this and that and that, we will have a good user experience. This is not true, the user decides if his experience with your product is good or bad, not the requirement.

This is where you need personas and user stories reflecting your users along with their needs and wants. The user stories can also clarify the requirement for the team of designers, developers and off course testers within the development cycles.

Feature centered design
Most companies with a successful project take this approach, and keep extending and building new features and there is nothing wrong with that. But when you build features just to build new features, you are not paying attention to improving or extending the existing ones. As technology is always evolving it might be a good idea to revisit those features built some years ago, now that you are able to do so. This is often referred to as a feature creep or featuritis, some extra features go beyond the basic function of the product and can result in over-complication rather than simplifying the design.

When features are not directly delivering a customer benefit or enabling staff to deliver a customer benefit it is easy to question the importance of that feature. So why should you build this feature? please ask!

Product Management centered design
When you are working in agile teams, you will mostly have a product manager telling you what features to built and how they should look and behave. This is good when that PM is also in direct contact with clients or end users and this could definitely increase sales or distribution.

Most product managers come from the field and are familiar with the specific experiences in a specific sector. A good product manager is able to explain the why behind a feature and elaborate the how within his network of connections. With this input you can improve requirements, guidelines, the design and eventually the product too.

CEO centered design
This is how apple worked in the Steve days. With a clear vision about the future of design Steve made more enemies than friends in ye olde silicon valley. Designers had to present him loads of decks with layouts for the ipad native app icons, and he would gun them all down because he himself did not like the looks of them. He was not able to criticise the designs and could not provide the designer with feedback or input on how to improve these icons to suit his needs. If a CEO is often overruling the designer something is clearly wrong, people should stick to their roles and also respect the roles of others.

This is where A/B tests could come in handy, or the designer can resort to tests or interviews with actual users. But since the CEO already overruled the designer it is very likely he will disagree to the actual request from the designer to preform these tests.

After all, designers should not advocate for design at all, user empathy is all you need to push for to get people to understand the design side of things. If you are a designer and you are not able to connect or get information from your end users, clearly you are not designing with an user centered approach.

571 views ✍ 12 jan. 13

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