Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The 50,000 Foot View of User Centered Design

Sometimes we make the world of business harder than it really needs to be. I, like many of you, have seen business almost elevated to a science where special schooling and certification are required just to have a seat at the boardroom table (think: MBA's and Six Sigma Black Belts). Decisions that would seem pretty basic aren't made unless there is data to back it up or an ROI can be established.

According to the book See, Feel, Think, Do - The Power of Instinct in Business by Miligan and Smith, business success is based on the simple process of observing and understanding human behavior. When it comes to technology products what we're really talking about is user-centered design from a high-level view. I'm not saying build it, release it and then see what happens. I've worked too hard to advocate against that. What I am saying to developers is that you should act referring to research, not because of research.

Judgments that are made in what features to add and how an application should look should be based on good information. For example, a thorough job / task analysis of an end-user and how they could possibly use the application would be good information to base decisions on. More importantly, decisions should be an empathetic appreciation of the situation the end-user faces on a day to day basis.

Some of the most successful business leaders of our time did not wait for focus group data or statistical analysis to launch their ideas. People like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or the founders of ground-breaking internet business like Google (NasdaqGS:GOOG) or (NasdaqGS:AMZN) saw the world as it is, knew they could change it and did something about it.

Taking a user centered approach to business is not all that difficult to do if you follow see, feel, think, do:

  • See - walk in your customer's or end-user's shoes. See the world and the problem from their point of view. Find out what the big picture is.
  • Feel - you're only human and so are your end-users. Understand and feel what it is like to be them and be willing to personally face the problems they encounter.
  • Think - ask questions to challenge the status quo. You almost have to approach this with a child-like mind. Ask yourself, "In a perfect world, what would the best possible outcome be?" Challenge your thinking by asking why or why not.
  • Do - turn your vision into action. What do you need to get moving, how can you excite your end-users and determine benchmarks that let you know you have succeeded or on the right path.
See, feel, think, do. Can it be that simple?

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