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The People Behind User-Centred Design – and why they hold the keys to your future…

by on Jul.09, 2010, under Storage

The People Behind User-Centred Design V and why they hold the keys to your future…

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User-Centred Design was brought to my attention a few years ago when I was client-side in Ecommerce at Virgin Atlantic.  Our goals and strategies always focused on the business and IT efficiencies, so when the EMC User Experience team introduced me to the concept of a
user-centred approach it was a new way of thinking for me, but one that really made sense. 
I then had the chance to work on interaction design with Flow Interactive at tesco.com and it made me start to look at digital design with a new perspective… starting with an understanding of users and their goals, and solving problems with them front of mind.

I wanted to hear what the industry experts are saying on the subject and had the opportunity to attend a talk on The People Behind User-Centred Design V and why they hold the keys to your futureK at Cass Business School in Moorgate on Tuesday evening. I anticipated a creative audience of Art Directors, Designers and User Experience experts, so was surprised to see a mainly business and IT audience in a fairly sober environment.

The talk was held in a lecture theatre with a panel of speakers moderated by the editor of WIRED magazine, David Rowan.  His panel included the Creative Research Fellow at
City University, CEO of Electronic Ink, the
Lead Partner in IT Enabled Business Transformation at KPMG, Chief Enterprise Architect at Reuters and Operations Director of Nomura (investment information).

They each gave a three minute synopsis on what User-Centred Design means to them and the importance of design-led development, citing the new digital work Reuters has done at Reuters Labs to feed ‘the eco system’ that companies like Apple have created. They spoke of McLaren Automotive Group in-car system designs where systems have been optimized for the engineers to allow pit stop changes to be made in seconds, to working cross-industry with companies like National Air Traffic Control to find opportunities from others who are demonstrating good practice in this field.

They highlighted the challenge of embedding the mind-set and practice of User-Centred Design into the organisation and changing traditional ways of thinking that tend to start with system solutions, rather than the customer solutions. Company culture is key to this and enabling the business to work closely with designers and the technology teams is crucial.   Roles like business-minded architects, engineers and psychologists were also seen as extremely valuable, more so than a single role of Chief Design Officer since it could be seen as authoritarian. They felt it would be better to weave the principles throughout the company and focus on training.

I did find it a little disappointing that the obvious choice of Apple was cited as the best example of User-Centred Design, and it made me think about companies I believe designs with the user in mind; people like tesco.com where they design for external customers in online grocery ordering through to purely dotcom grocery warehouses with handheld devices designed for staff ease of use and efficiency.  Morgan Stanley are another good example where they are redesigning their trading systems with designers and User Experience Architects on the trading floor watching human behaviour and implementing efficiencies, with impressive financial results.

A question and answer session at the end raised points like, what do you do when it goes wrong? to which there was no clear response and a recruitment consultant was keen to know how to find the right people? and told us the challenges of recruiting the right people and getting these roles embedded within organizations.

It seems theres still a way to go for companies in making the shift to a fully
user-centred design mindset with a directive from the top, weaved throughout the organization and the business and technologists designing with customers in mind.

It did however, make me optimistic to see so many business and IT people attending an event at a business school in London and I feel encouraged that as more business-people and IT departments start to think in a user-centred way the potential is truly massive. It gives EMC the opportunity to help clients design technology solutions with customers at the centre.

Useful related reading:

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper

About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann and David Cronin

Wrench in the System, Harold Hambrose

 

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