Monthly Archives: August 2011

[Reading Reflections] Use-centered Approach: What and Why?

Reading Material: Chapter 1 of  About Face 3, Measuring the User Experience, Design of Everyday things, and Designing Web Usability.

I appreciate these reading materials since they define the key concept — usability and/ or user-centered design — from different aspects. Why I said it is the key concept for this course as well as for today’s design? Because we don’t lack emerging designs and products in our life, but we DO lack good designs that make us just feel happy when we use them.

So, first, what exactly is user-centered approach? Different authors have slightly different definition fitted into different context. But I think we can put it as simple as “the design that makes people happy”. So just as Steve Krug put it, “get rid of the question mark”! Compared to the bad designs that based on designers’ or programmers’ own view, this approach focused on the ease of use rather than ease of make or ease of code. Thus, it requires designers to understand users’ desires, needs, motivations, and contexts, and put them in the center of the design strategies. Among these readings, I personally like the Cooper’s interpretation using goal-directed approach the best, because it offers a higher and broader point of view to direct our focus, instead of focusing on single task or activity (which might also be called user-centered design!).

Of course, things are always easy to say than done. In order to use this approach in our future design, we need to fall to utilizing the principles in a systematical way. Another good point about these reading materials is that they offer scientific methodologies that we could follow. For example, in About Face 3, Cooper brought up the design process based on goal-directed design; also in Measuring the User Experience, I am glad to find the quantitative way to support design decision.

In the end, I would like to share why usability matters. As we can image, usability is everywhere in our life. From playing a smart phone, or using a microwave at home, to operating a high-speed rail, usability is not only about pleasure but could be about life or death (if you have heard about the tragic high-speed rail accident just happened in China, partly because of bad design of communication system). As an engineer planning a career in usability research and interaction design, I believe it is never too careful about usability. It is about the success of your product, it is about revenue for a business, and it is also about changing the way people interact with the world.