Is User Centred Design only for software?

19 05 2008

I had a conversation today, which was I interesting and enlightening.

We were talking about User Centred Design, and the person I was talking to, let’s call him “Bob”, was all fixated on how UCD was born from the IT age.

I of course argued to the contrary and being an Industrial Designer (actual buttons that you click with your fingres and so on)

You see, UCD in all it’s forms and even as simply as a reseraunt, asking the customer how they like their coffee and thus changing the menu.

It’s alive in the automotive industry like nothing else. Look at the features that appear in the new cars each year, how do you think they arrive at what is on that list? how do you think motorcycles (the finest and most incredible machines this world has ever known) have become such highly focussed and purposed solely for integrating the human with amazing speed and grace?

I digress. But to make my point, I’ll look at a new different product all together. A perambulator.

Specifically a terriffic one made by Britax (Steelcraft), called the “Strider”.

We just got one for our new kid. Me being me, I reviewed it quite carefully when we were purchasing it.

To me, took up the role of the technical, financial, and coach buyer. The boss took up the role of the User buyer, as well as a little bit of the financial buyer.

From my perspectives, having reverse engineered the design, and the product itself:

Technical buyer:

– it’s machined nicely, with all the fittings, … fitting well, and operating it is easy, and well thought out, for a human to work, (who has two hands, TWO not THREE Bertini)

– it was made from good quality extruded aluminium.

– it had solid motion through all its joints, and bushes moved silently without catching or rubbing.

– the tyres were airless, and thus would never run flat, and could have the tread replaced.

– the wheels pop off, and the bassinet pops off easily to reduce stack height when folded down.

– light weight, with minimal plastics and over complicated jointing systems.

Financial buyer:

– in terms of construction cost to produce the item, to the obvious quality standard, seemed reasonable. Easily besting the “could I build it myself for less?” question.

– in terms of quality in comparison to the other things on the market (ahem … @ $1500AUD for a pram!) and versus the more economical bretheren, certainly seemed to offer good value for money.

– Because of the inherant quality of the product, wear and tear or lifespan questions are well met.

Coach Buyer:

– Because the financial buyer and the techncial buyer (which is a common male role to play in such a decision) were happy, the Coach buyer was provided with many good things to help coach the User buyer into a position of purchase. Why? Because it came with this terriffic two part brochure, the one set of pages, had all the technical information and instructional information I in my roles (and as a male) would want. Plus!!! it had all the information I would need to be able to support my actual decision maker in her decision.

Of note, it wasn’t a con, or underhanded in my view. Because Britax gave me all the information I wanted to know, and made the product in such a way that it addressed my concerns, my job in my role was made easier.

From the Boss’s side, she got great usability, reassurance from her technical and financial buyer that the thing was good, and to boot, because the financials were reasonable.. heaps of extras for bub.

Which suited me also.

So where’s the UCD in all this?

I’ll ask you this.

We bought the pram. We’re happy about it, we like it, like to use it, and had no post purchase buyers remorse.

How do you think the company could have achieved that, if they DIDN’T ask users what they wanted and then acted upon that information?

Childrens toys leading UI design?

28 01 2007

I often look at the toys my two boys get for inspiration and insight into UI design.Now this may seem like a stupid thing to do, kids toys are for kids and I handle design for complex business systems.So what’s the gig?Well I actually intend writing several articles about this and what I’m finding.The product I assembled or disassembled more correctly was an “imaginext” castle from Fisher Price toys.Now, when I pulled the thing out of its box, I in typical fashion ignored the instructions relying of course on my amazing talents and sharp mind to be able to effectively assemble a childs play thing.Typically also, this gamble never pays off and I’m left sitting on the floor hunched over some instructions I can barely make out because I’ve half assembled something in the wrong order and am likely looking at something that more accurately resembles a ball of twine over the Batman’s lair i originally purchased.Anyway, as I was undoing the last of the 14 million wire ties holding the toy castle in its cardboard cocoon I noticed that at the top of the toy there was a little toy king held in place with a white surround around his feet.The other knights were contained in a little plastic bubble “see but not touch” wrapping of the open type display box it was all contained in.The king stood at the top of the castle above the drawbridge (see pic).imaginext castleNow here’s the UI bit. The surround holding the king in was coloured white. There were no other parts on the castle that were white….other than the white plastic reinforcements that were fastening the aforementioned wires which restrained the toy in it’s packaging. I’d been happily removing all the white plastic bits from the toy and it wasn’t until it came to remove this last piece from the toy, that I realised this.Fisher-Price in all their wisdom had decided to colour code all the removable parts white!And I, even with a well trained eye completely automatically keyed into the “obvious” visual clues that led me to instinctively know that all white bits should be removed.(Reading the instructions later revealled that they had indeed done this on purpose, and that I had done the right thing.)So there you have it. As kids we are taught games which teach us how to spot differences, and make choices based on those differences. “Odd one out” games if you will.By purely instinctivly playing the “odd one out” game with this toy through the practice of removing the packaging, I was going to achieve my goal!Can this same thinking be applied to more complex interface design? Probably. I’ve not invested much in the way of figuring out and active application for the “odd one out” game in terms of application or web interface design. BUT!!! Surely there are many other games we played as children which we can tap into in terms of our designs to enable our users to intuitively interact with our software?Kids toys… well I never.Next article will be about another toy I quite like, which is the Leapster game from a company called Leapfrog. It’s excellent, and my 3 year old son can use the device like a pro. In his world, instructions are meaningless. Poor little tike is still working on numbers and how to eat custard while resisting the temptation to stick it in his brothers hair for a larf.Users first. Particularly if they are kids.