Professional designers have to optimize the solution to their brief, but minimize project effort and risk. User-centered design (UCD) is a systematic, measured approach that reliably delivers the goods when a project is too important for hit-or-miss seat of the pants design.
User-centered design builds on simple principles:
- Designing a product for people to use means thinking about the usage as a whole, not just the product in isolation.
- Evidence from testing how a product does work with users is a better guide to design than assumptions or opinions about how it might work.
- The process of analyzing requirements, evolving the design and evaluating performance should repeat cyclically until the performance required is achieved in practice.
We use a variety of techniques during the different stages of a UCD project. The choice depends on issues such as the type of product being designed, the users it is for, identified risks, available time and resources, and project approach (agile development has different needs than a one-step development phase, for example).
By working methodically and continually checking progress, UCD lets us control the cost, time and risk involved in design. It also makes it easy to manage collaboration and to handle complexity.
Because UCD is inherently flexible, we can plan an appropriate design program to suit most project situations, timetables and budgets.
UCD promotes efficiency because it:
- focuses design effort on achieving real value
- minimizes tensions over design direction
- reduces barriers to genuine innovation.
It also tends (over time) to promote an open, collaborative, results-oriented culture in organisations that adopt it.