Comparatively speaking, user-centered design may still be considered a “new” way of doing things. Some would argue it started during World War II, when it was observed that the interaction with some of the technical systems were not easy to use. However, the fact is software and even computer technology haven’t been a core part of most people’s day to day working lives until the last few decades.
With the onslaught of computers, software and the internet, wonderful ideas of considering the end user of these systems came to bear. Some people came to realize that if we were asking people to use computers day in and day out, maybe it would make sense to ensure they could actually use them. When technology promised efficiencies, companies demanded to know how that could be proven. As mentioned in Bethany’s blog article, the Mind’s Why, Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman helped further explain the principles of user-centered design and expose the tenants of usability. Perhaps they made it too easy.
You know CliffsNotes, right? Those handy dandy yellow booklets that provided you with enough information to pass the test, but not make you an expert on the topic? As much as I respect the fact that Jakob Nielsen created a “top 10 list” of usability heuristics, easy for us to digest and rattle off, in some cases it has given enough information to too many people and made them dangerous. People have begun to assume if they know the cliff notes, they are they expert. The next time I hear a that a user should not have to click more than 3 times to get to a piece of information, I may literally scream.
Good design is as much art and science which, in my opinion, means that designers are doing the work of 2 professionals. A standard degree for user experience professionals is often one in Information Sciences. Anyone who scans that curriculum sees a mix of business, computer science and design courses. It is an insult these professionals to think that someone who has memorized a list of heuristics can replace them. If design were that simple, than every application you use, every web site you would visit would be exactly the same. But, they are not. Designers understand that while all banking applications may be serving a similar audience with similar needs in similar contexts, those same users want something completely different when it comes to buying clothing online or planning a vacation.
So, while I support the education of the masses on why user-centered design and usability are important, please leave the actual work to those who are qualified.
Just because you know that the basement goes in the ground and the roof goes on top doesn’t make you a builder or an architect, right?