A Better Look at User-Centered Design

2 minute read

Cennydd Bowles wrote a nice and provocative article called “Looking Beyond User-Centered Design”. It is surely interesting because it’s a nice provocation that raises interesting thoughts and potential discussions.

These are the main considerations I have after reading the article:


1. UCD as Process

UCD is born as an iterative process centered on the user. The point, the core point are the two elements of centering and iteration. The size of each step is then decided in a case-by-case situation. I won’t refer to “heaviness” as a weakness of UCD, but as a weakness of the usual perception of UCD. Many people push for big research phases, when sometimes very short ones are needed. I might be the only one thinking in this way, but I feel that it’s still UCD and the heaviness is a problem triggered by a certain perception of UCD. You can still have UCD with a very lean approach.

Even more, as I describe in this article, the important thing is that regardless of the kind of design process you do, you always do in one form or another a Dot Loop approach. That’s the core of every successful design.

Because even when a “genius design” approach is applied, it works only if it’s based on that loop, and it’s likely to be “user centered” even if not a so-called full blown UCD process.


2. Style

The point about negating the style isn’t about UCD, but it’s a good one to be raised. I think that the main problem is that Cennydd takes it to an extreme. Instead, it’s a continuum.

In my mind when someone says that “the best interface is no interface” is talking about the interaction design side of it, and it refers specifically to making the technology disappear. But it doesn’t mean that the experience (UX) or the brand (visual design) should disappear: that is a whole other dimension altogether.

Bruno Munari actually said this even better:

The designer doesn’t have a style,
he doesn’t have a personal style.
He shouldn’t have a personal style.
I humbly suggest that a designer shouldn’t have a personal style.
Because he gives a style to a product.

So, in my opinion, yes, the interaction design side should become transparent. But the experience shouldn’t.


3. Imbalance and Business

I love the point he makes about imbalance. The best designers I know are able to strike the ideal balance between business needs and user needs. The ideal top is when the two actually match perfectly.

Even more: the ideal scenario is when a design is able to both work with the internal side of the company and with the external or consumer objective of the design.

Because a wonderful design that the business can’t sustain and maintain is a failed design.



Thanks to Gianandrea Giacoma, Dario Violi and Cristiano Siri for having primed this post.