When to use UCD

Take a look at these various design styles and before you default to user centered design (UCD) as a sort of pavlovian reaction, consider Spool’s point that good teams implement all of these depending upon the circumstances. A team’s ability to choose which one of these styles is applicable and then have the capacity and expertise to execute within that style may be the more interested test of a strong design culture.

The teams that produced the best experiences knew these styles well and how to quickly switch between them. – Jared Spool

Decision Style #1: Unintended Design

Essentially this is no design because the team is focused on development and deployment. It’s a game of chance. With some luck it could turn out okay.

Decision Style #2: Self Design

Teams using this style are basically designing for themselves. This will only work well if the team members are the actual users of the product.

Decision Style #3: Genius Design

Spool coins this one as the Seen-It-All Design. But the caveat here is the you’ve not only designed something many times over, but you’ve done all the in-depth research to back up your decisions as well.

Decision Style #4: Activity-Focused Design

In this case the team already know what they’re going to build and so they study how users will interact with the features they intend to release.

Decision Style #5: User-Focused Design

Also referred to as user centered design (UCD), this style requires the most research and goes into far more depth than simply feature interaction design. Instead you start to frame the entire problem space by determining the needs of your customer by studying their behavior within a context and their environment.

This design style (User-Focused Design) is the high-end approach and is necessary if the team is looking to create an excellent experience overall. – Spool

So the question is not whether your organization is committed to best practices in UCD, it’s whether the company as a whole knows how to differentiate and respond well to the spectrum of design approaches. The ability to recognize what part of the spectrum we’re designing in can also dispel any missteps, like confusing activity-focused design (style 4) with user-focused design (style 5)


5 Design Decision Styles. What’s Yours?