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Does User-Centered Design Stifle Innovation And Inhibit Holistic User Experiences?

Jake Truemper of Johnny Holland sketches ways that the existing instincts of user design can be made harmonious with innovation.

Stephen Fortune
Stephen Fortune on March 10, 2011.

In UX Design, usability is generally considered risk averse and a stifling influence on innovation. The successes of Apple’s approach to user design if often championed as the example par excellence of “don’t listen to users because users don’t know what they want.”

There are several reasons that user design is considered detrimental to innovation. It is a field organised

to meet users’ expectations, eliminate surprises rather than capitalize on them, and follow standards that provide consistency with outside interfaces. Furthermore it utilizes prototyping tools that encourage the use of established pattern libraries

On the one hand, risk aversion and an urge to protect the end user from superfluous design elements which seem ingenious only to a product designer, are aspects of user design to be lauded. But Jake Truemper of Johnny Holland sketches ways that the existing instincts of user design can be made harmonious with innovation. According to him, gains could be made by dispensing with focus group and survey lead research in favour of differing models. His user centred design (UCD) aims for “beautiful experiences”

“Beautiful experiences start from the moment your user hears about your product and includes everything from your marketing message to ease of use, engaging interactions, and emotionally enriching design.”

Research methods which would be useful in this regard would include ethnographic techniques, such as contextually observing interface use in the user’s native environment. He also stresses that truly innovative design takes time, and that an incubation ‘dream, doodle and design’ period is advisable. It’s also important that this incubation period isn’t immediately preceded by designers engaging with pattern libraries, what he deems

“the clip art of interaction design”.

One of Truempers most pertinent points is that that better UCD can help UX designers to build the inevitable & unexpected uses that people put their objects to into the holistic experience of their product. A holistic experience should pre empt and incorporate the deviant uses users put their devices to.

Johnny Holland: “Where Innovation Belongs In User Centred Design”

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