User Centered Design vs. Experience Design

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As I discussed in an earlier post, the typical user-centered design cycle described in Wallach and Scholz’ paper [1] comprises the following five categories: Scope, Analyse, Design, Validate and Deliver. In each iteration, in principle all five categories are used, but especially Analyse, Design and Validate.

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In particular user involvement in the Analyse phase, I find interesting. Often user tests or evaluations are only done after the design process, missing an important opportunity to get inspired by and empathize with the users, before starting the design process.

“Deviating from common practice in usability textbooks – where methods of usability evaluation are subsumed under the umbrella of the validation phase – we are also addressing these already in our description of activities in the Analyse phase.”

But even before that, in the Scope phase, a common ground should be established between stakeholders, including users. The major goals and constraints of the project need to be identified and discussed at a qualitative level to set the agenda for the Analysis stage.

“Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom” – da Vinci

Without establishing clear borders of the design space, there is a risk of overdesigning aspects that later become unnecessary. Technological and user-contextual constraints need to be analysed and understood early to provide common ground for the different stakeholders.

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In experience design, setting goals is asking ‘Why’ questions [2]. Why would a user want a certain benefit or feature? For example, you might want to design a chair. The chair itself is a feature. Being able to sit, is a benefit of a chair. But why would you want to sit? Perhaps it is to give you a moment of relaxation after walking all day. Perhaps it provides you with a comfortable position to have dinner with your friend. These are experiences. I personally think that experiences are the very best goals to set, being a designer.

Instead of talking about User Centered Design as an opposite or competitor of Experience design, I think Experience design provides great stories as starting points and original ideas, that can become great products if thoroughly developed through User Centered Design. It all starts with Experience design, but it needs to be followed up with User Centered design. Continue reading