Flip the Script

User centric design helps us flip things around. Instead of having a product interface map to a technology, it should map to a problem that is relevant to a person who might find the service useful or valuable.

When a technology is useful, it can be formed into a product. As a product, it's packaged and presented to people in different ways. Many times, the initial version is much different than what ends up in front of actual users.

Version 1 is usually the most complicated

For example, in order to get a software product to function, the initial developer will need to break the functionality up into smaller pieces, each with its own feedback loop. Do x and the program delivers y. Multiply this process and you end up with a program that is built out of many smaller functional components that are linked together. The result is a machine that helps solve the developer's problem, which is "does this function?" Eventually, the goal should be to break this down and make the technology as invisible as possible. The interface can then do what it needs to do: relate to people and help them solve their problem.

The goal is to make the technology as invisible as possible

It all goes back to taxes

A good analog for this is related to your taxes. Filing taxes is arguably one of the most un-user-friendly processes around. The main interface is the set of forms that you submit to the tax collection agency. The forms can be optimized for legibility but that alone won't solve the main problem. The real problem is that the forms are ultimately optimized for the tax collector, not the submitter.

The super popular tax filing software TurboTax does a great job of adding a user-centric layer to this process. It provides a series of simple questions for you to answer and fills out the forms for you, based on your responses. The design and language is clear and easy to understand. It provides the user with a desirable alternative to sifting through complex legalese and calculations.

The tax collector will totally allow you to file your taxes for free, using the forms and instructions they provide, but TurboTax provides a better way, that makes more sense to most people. The service is so valuable that users are willing to pay money just for a more user-centric interface. For many, the TurboTax experience might be better than working with an actual person!

User centric design help us flip things around

Get feedback from real people

How to actually pull it off is the tricky part. For software, there are many techniques such as user interviews, remote desktop testing, surveys, prototypes, beta testers, and more. The main point is to get your product in front of people sooner than later. If you are actively observing real people using the interface and making adjustments about what you see, that's a good start. It's really just important to understand that building the initial machine is only the first part. The rest of the work involves lining your technology up with the right users in order to provide a solution to their problem, not yours.

  • User interviews
  • Remote desktop testing
  • Surveys
  • Prototype tests
  • Live data tests