The fable of the user-centered design

A week ago I’ve read a great e-book from David Travis. For those of you who do not like to read, it’s less then 38 (short) pages.

To summarize, user-centered design is about 3 things:

  • Early and continual focus on the user and their tasks.
  • Empirical measurement of user behaviour.
  • Iterative design.

Early and continual focus on the user and their tasks

Figure out how people use your system, by watching or talking to them. Listen to common problems coming in through support. Create personas based on real people. Keep on having contact with your clients.

  1. Create personas based on real people (what motivates them?).
  2. Understand why and where (environment) people use your system.
  3. Make red routes. A red route is a critical task that people ant to carry out, that should be as complete, smoothly and quickly possible.

Empirical measurement of user behaviour

Quote from the book: There’s a saying from Henry Ford that I like to quote: ‘If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse’.

Let people test your things, while carrying out the defined red routes. But you have to measure!

  1. Measure effectiveness: how many people manage to complete the red route successfully.
  2. Efficiency: how long do people take to complete the tasks.
  3. Measure satisfaction: how do people feel about the design?

Iterative design

Measurement has to be repeated, it has to be done multiple times, because, one test case / design simply isn’t enough. Because of that we can not start creating completely worked out prototypes.

That’s why we should make paper prototypes! The guideline is:

Create lots of different designs and use the best elements of each to create new ones.

Then create electronic prototypes and do the same.


Quote from the book: “So companies don’t do the research because people in the organisation simply assume that they know what’s best for customers?

In my opinion that really is often how it is. Customers are left out, in the cold. It’s not easy to transform from working to this way, to a company that includes a couple of customers on a regular base. But it is definitely worth giving it a try. Read the book, try it!