Please Don't Forget the User

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Brian Ansems

Plain and simple, software and services are used by people. And the user’s experience with those services will decide the success or failure of the enterprise that creates and owns them. And as software becomes software -as-­service, it is becoming increasingly more important that companies prioritize the needs and wants of their users. Ultimately, it is the user’s experience and satisfaction that should be the benchmark for successful development of an IT solution; this is the essence of User­ Centered design.


Donald Norman coined the term “user-centered design” in his 1986 book The Design of Everyday Things, which was originally titled The Psychology of Everyday Things. He later went on to co-found the Nielsen Norman Group in 1998 with Jakob Nielson. Photo credit:


What is User­ Centered Design?

In broad strokes, User ­Centered design (UCD) can be described in 6 statements:

  1. The design is based on an understanding of a user’s tasks and environments.
  2. Users are continuously a part of the design and development.
  3. The design is affected by user evaluation.
  4. The process is iterative.
  5. The design thinks about the whole user experience.
  6. The design team is composed of many skill­sets and views.



There’s a few things we should note about this chart.

  • Firstly, it begins with two steps: Plan and Research. Here, teams should be getting to know their user. Find out what they like, the environment they will be using the product, and anything that might affect how a user responds to the product.
  • Secondly, the chart is a big circle. Why? Because it’s iterative. And it’s important to do this to stay agile. You never know what the user might have for you that will change the design of your product.
  • Lastly, look at those adapt and measure steps. These will let you know how close your product is to meeting your user’s needs, and they let you have a chance to quickly change your design early enough before building something no one will like or use.
  • It may sound involved, but it's all about making something users will enjoy and businesses will profit from. As developer Dylan Ansems puts it, "We want to make stuff that people will use and actually want to use."

Convincing the resistant

Many large businesses don’t take advantage of user ­centered design despite the benefits from implementing the process.

A designer at Thinking Big, Paul Lopes, described some great examples on how UCD methods can help large enterprises. “We’ve used usability tests involving end users for their online account system. It’s really changed how we developed the system.”

Aside from Usability Testing, other UCD processes include:

  • Context Analysis
  • Requirements Gathering
  • Prototyping

Often though, user centered design can be a hard sell to enterprise clients. Clients can be wary of the process or might think it's unnecessary, but the results of user centered design speak for themselves.

UCD isn't the costly process it might be seen as, and the smallest amount of attention given to user experience can make a tremendous difference. Steve Krug, the author of Don't Make Me Think, has given a great lecture on the subject.

He talks about the cost benefits and the enormous help early usability tests give to development teams. It's a great lecture and, despite his objections, it will make you think.

In the end

This is only a brief overview of user centered design. Future articles will provide more depth, but it's important to get the discussion of this topic started. If you would like to know more, you can talk to someone at or tweet at @thinkingbiginc.

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