journey to the center of design

jared spool is my cruise director.

It’s time to retire the dogma of user-centered design. Instead, we should focus on informed design and build a reward system based on informed measurements: vision, feedback, and culture (three core UX attributes).

Jared freakin’ Spool, UIE
Sunday, March 15
brain sparks
putting a ring on it

37 signals v. Norman

Self-design: “We’re not designing for others. We’re designing for ourselves.” – 37 signals
“[37 signals] developers are completely arrogant and unsympathetic to the people who use their products.” – Don Norman

There is tension between user-centered design and self-design. So where did UCD come from? The IBM 360 was built by the engineers (“highly trained on the tool”) who also operated the IBM 360 (“focused on the tool not the data”). The IBM Displaywriter was built by engineers for office workers (“not skilled on the tool, focused on the data not the tool”).

UCD came about because tools designed only for engineers were tough for non-engineers to use. The promise: if users are at center of design, then acceptance will occur. Problem: no documentation that UCD actually improves results. Apple barely does usability testing, Microsoft does 15,000 tests a year. So there are great designs without UCD.

What do great teams do to create great designs?

UIE looked at successful design teams and unsuccessful teams and looked at key differences:

  • Tricks – When the right technique is outside your skill level (or time limit or patience), you use tricks (improper techniques that get the job done) to get through the process.
  • Techniques – Individual building blocks inside of a process. Can exist in multiple processes. You can improve your technique over time with practice.
  • Process – Series of steps used to get things done. Process doesn’t have to be a repeatable thing.
  • Methodology – Formalization of process to get repeatability.
  • Dogma – Belief systems with an unquestioned faith independent of any supporting evidence.

UIE’s study found that the successful organizations didn’t use methodologies or dogmas very much. The teams that were struggling were attempting to use a methodology and failing. Failure resulted in increased methodology. The successful companies made sure everyone on the team had a full toolkit of tricks and techniques (it’s important to know how and when to do things right, and how to do them the wrong way–but still do them).

Ditch the UCD Dogma

It’s not about the particular dogma, it’s about what we do when we work as teams (“The Stone Soup”). If everyone works toward the same goal, you will succeed much better. At no time do you believe the dogma/methodology is the reason something is successful.

User research is about informing design. Every usability test ends the same: the developer says “OMG if we knew this two years ago, we would have designed it differently!” Every usability problem is rooted in someone not knowing something they needed to know during the design process.

What gets measured, gets done. What gets rewarded, gets done well.

Measuring Brand Engagement

Brand engagement has to do with how much people love your brand (Gallup CE11: Loyalty, Confidence, Integrity, Pride, and Passion).

So what happened when UIE did this with 11 electronics resellers? They looked at CE11 scores before shopping experience and after shopping experience. Out of all of them, only Wal-Mart got better after the shopping experience, even though they started extremely low in the beginning (low expectations). If you focus on improving the CE11 shift, and reward improvement, you will see improvement. Beware of the techniques you use to improve your brand engagement (e.g., eye trackers, analytics). What do the results of those techniques actually mean? That’s the important question. You can read this information in (too) many ways.

Core UX Attributes

Three things that make a difference:

  • Vision – Can everyone on the team describe what the experience of using your design will be like five years from now (an experience vision)?
  • Feedback loop – In the last six weeks, have you spent more than 2 hours watching someone use your design or a competitor’s design?
  • Great culture – In the last six weeks, have you rewarded a team member for creating a major design failure (accepting making mistakes means you honor learning from mistakes; if you are completely risk averse where everything has to be perfect, you put out drek)?

These are notes from a session at sxsw interactive. My own take on topics are mixed in with what the presenters were actually saying, so do not assume all of this content is my own.

One reply on “journey to the center of design”

  1. Daniel,

    You did a great job of summarizing the talk. Thanks for encouraging my behavior.


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