User centered design thinking

This is the result of a brainstorming conversation I had recently with David Tait, and he left me with a thought to ponder.

What is user centered design thinking he asked me?

Or rather, what would it be were such an imaginary animal to exist in the world, tangibly, so to speak, she said in her best alliteratively circumlocutory manner. Dave on the other hand is a total snob, he said well you needn’t explain it to your regular readers, they’d know exactly what you mean anyway, but how would you communicate what it is we do to all the others in the world?

Good question. How do I bridge teh cultural and communication divide between the culture and language of the online world with its ‘2.0ooeys’ and tags and social networking gooey collaborative goodness and business in the tangible world, where you meet people, in a northern yorkshire village who don’t know who google is, but drive a taxi and dream of seeing the world. They all have mobile phones and that is their information gateway to the rest of the world.

So anyway, what could be a possible attempt to articulate what is user centered design thinking?

Lets break this phrase down, first into two parts of two words each,

user centered = being user centered, as I understood it from my time at the Institute of Design, IIT Chicago, meant that your frame of reference for creating a system, a product or business model was always the potential or intended ‘user’. Immersion in the user’s environment, also known as ethnography or user research or user observations or whatever you want to call it, allows one to stand within the constraints and context of the environment in which your audience operates. This experience, thus, allows you to gather and collate insights into the context in which your implemented design will work to solve a problem or challenge.  More formal methods of information gathering such as camera studies, interviews and behavioural prototyping add metrics and data that help guide the intuitive response to a possible solution or first prototype of one.  One could say, to paraphrase Grant McCracken, that becoming user centered  means to pull oneself out of one’s own frame of reference in order to place oneself in another’s shoes.

Through this,  we come to know the general constraints and outlines of the recommended approach or solution that will be the end deliverable of such an exercise.

Now we come to the infamous and much abused term, design thinking =  It is ultimately the attempt to find a name for a whole brain approach to problem solving, one that uses the logical analytical tools and frameworks of the business world as well as the fuzzier, more intuitive ones from the world of design. Key is knowing when to use which metric or tool in order to best communicate the intent of the proposed program, the goals to be achieved or the problem or challenge to be addressed thus providing a roadmap or direction for the prototype that is implemented in the field to be tweaked into or measured up against.

But overall, if the user centered design thinking approach to solving large scale systems design problems is to be successful, the key challenge is to frame the problem correctly at the outset.

Once we are able to frame the problem correctly, addressing the real challenge or the unmet or undiscovered need, as more formal product designers are wont say, the design brief essentially writes itself as there is always that overarching goal that one can measure one’s progress and results against. At each stage one asks are we addressing the correct problem or challenge?

Are we solving the right problem?

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One Response to User centered design thinking

  1. A Conversation on Humanistic Design

    This article is derived and extended from a comment I made in response to an on-going conversation on design at The David Report blog.David Carlson has begun a conversation with Satyendra Pakhalé, Head of the Master of Design for Humanity

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