1 July 2009

Tools of engagement: the new practice of user-centered design

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Searching for companionship
In a short essay on Core77, Robert Fabricant is not afraid to tackle some big questions: “What role did Design play in contributing to our current global crisis? What role should/will Designers play in leading us out of this mess?” and “Do we need to shift the conventional notion of User-Centered Design (UCD) and rethink the very foundation of contemporary design practice?”

The article, which also describes two emerging design practices (catalyst design and performance design), is a highly recommended read.

A few quotes:

“We have been operating under the assumption that the primary challenge is to convince businesses to focus on fulfilling user needs with higher quality products, with more meaningful experiences. But what if the ‘users’ themselves are the problem? What if users represent not a coherent set of needs but a messy mix of desires and influences? What, ultimately, is the role of the designer in sorting through these desires to determine which should drive our design decisions? And what frameworks, other than intuition, should we use to make these judgments?”

“What we are beginning to appreciate is the degree to which user behavior is ALWAYS subject to influence. We should not assume that our role is to somehow remove those influences so that the user can act in a free and unconstrained manner to achieve their own needs, as that is impossible. The user is not a self-contained actor in the system, but one who is largely and continually open to influences, the most important of which he/she is generally not conscious of. Our design decisions are just one influence among many, not categorically different, and often not the most effective in motivating the user to achieve their desired aims.”

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