UI13: Journey to the Center of Design

by Luke Wroblewski October 12, 2008

Jared Spool’s keynote at the User Interface 13 conference questioned dogmatic beliefs that a user-centered process results in great designs.

  • User-centered design come from the late 1970s: IBM 36 was developed by engineers for engineers. People manning devices only cared about running the programs.
  • In the 1980s, new devices came out like IBM desktop publishing tool. This resulted in a shift from things designed for engineers to things designed for non-engineers. Now there was a completely different audience so we needed a completely different design.
  • User-centered design came from human factors and cognitive psychology backgrounds.
  • But user-centered design never worked. There is not a single product that took over the marketplace after following a user-centered design process. It’s time to retire the notion of user-centered design. It was useful in the 1980’s but no longer useful now.
  • Jared’s team went and studied organizations that made great designs & organizations that don’t.
  • Process is the steps that someone used to get things done.
  • Methodology is a way to package and deliver a process to another part of the organization.
  • Dogma is an unquestioned safe independent of any supporting evidence.
  • Techniques are the building blocks people use for a process.
  • Tricks are things we do to just to get things done.
  • Assumed that teams with dogma or methodologies would be high performing but instead it was the teams that relied on tricks and techniques that delivered great designs.
  • In all situations where bad design decisions were made people lacked some information that would have helped them make the right decision.
  • Big retailer: 1M visitors per day, conversion rate is 1.6%, top 20% customers responsible for 80% of revenue, top 20% customers are .32% of total visitors.
  • Customers: 16,00 per day 3,200 are responsible for 80% of the revenue.
  • What gets measured is what gets done. Are we measuring the right users when we do user-centered design? If only 3,200 are responsible for 80% of the revenue out of 1M how do you know you are talking to the people that matter?
  • Many research techniques are subject to interpretation. Eye-tracking and analytics can be misunderstood and are about as good as tea leaves in making design decisions.
  • Three core attributes of user experience: vision, feedback, culture
  • Vision can everyone on your team describe the experience of using your product five years from now? Do they all have a sense of where your design is going?
  • Feedback: in the last six weeks, have you spent time watching people use your product or a competitor’s product?
  • Culture: has your senior management rewarded a team member for creating a design failure?
  • Time to put away dogma for user-centered design. How can we can focus on informed design (reward system based on informed measures)?