User centered design: For lousy designers?


Reading Designing for Interaction by Dan Saffer a couple of weeks ago, I realised something that really struck me. Designing the Ipod, Apple did no user testing… Since Apples security is strict, Apple didn’t want to test the Ipod, because there was a risk of revealing what was coming. However testing a user interface that is so new to the users as the click-wheel, would seem to be the only sensible thing to do. Apple chose to rely on Jonathan Ive’ designer skills instead of the users, and you could say that wasn’t such a bad idea. So my question is: User testing is that mostly for the unskilled designers?

By Rudolf

5 Responses to User centered design: For lousy designers?

  1. Miss Nevada says:

    Here are other questions: would users have rejected the iPod in a test? Had they found the navigation too odd, the design too simple, the material too shiny, the name too strange? Had the iPod enjoyed the same success if users had intervened in the making of it? Do users know what they want?

  2. SGr says:

    I see you point but honestly Apple is by far the only one to keep their innovation and development close to them self – and with the knowledge they have from prior development I must assume that they have done their home work before launching the “Ihardware” – another side of it is that more and more development from larger companies (when talking about the companies that manage the development and innovation in house) will keep their focus groups and user studies as real as possible – and by researching parallel studies in IE. interface navigation one can assume and draw results from one to another. Plus there is a continuous ongoing dialog on User study and usability to keep most projects going in the right direction.
    Second off while Jonathan Ive is head honcho at the apple crayon ranch he’s merely one person and the design and development staff is large enough to out run most other design studios with experience and knowledge – so to all fairness lets say “…rely on Jonathan Ive and apple design team’s skills.”
    Personally I would not say that user testing is for the “unskilled” designer – the question you ask does not seem to take factors like : Deadline, Budget structure and marked is to consideration. But overkill (and my experience tells me that clients often find user testing to be overkill, financially that it) is something the the client will try to avoid at all cost and leave it to the design/development studio to take the heat if it doesn’t work out as planed. But good planing and structure including User testing is a good way to avoid the pits.

    My 2 Cents

  3. abovethelies says:

    I assume they recognized how revolutionary it was at the beginning.

    Who didn’t pick up an iPod for the first time and go ‘wow!’?

  4. Steve says:

    Although I love the design of most Apple products I have always considered the iPod to be flawed. The click wheel is fine as is the new touch screen but to live with they are terrible products. How can anyone call a design successful if everyone who buys one immediately puts into some kind of case to stop it getting scratched and damaged. It’s a beautiful ornament but there is very little consideration for ergonomics or the day to day user.

    If user testing had been in a lab this may not have had much impact but a longer term study would have been very informative. Certainly lesser designers wouldn’t have been able to get away with this but Apple’s team have products so desirable that they are able to create a demand rather than merely satisfy one.

  5. Jonathan Ive is remarkable and outstanding personality. But I would not consider at all that skills of designers as the main point here.

    The idea behind skipping user testing is that iPod development and launch was radical design-driven innovation that brought not new functionality, but meaning, new experience for the user. Such kind of innovations are not performed nor by the acceptance of grey averages of the market needs neither by technology push. Mostly radical evolve from deep living semantics understanding, research and long indoor development, performed by hard work of designers. Design is about to bring a new meaning, not a new style.

    User testings and surveys in focus groups could be a good solution, but for incremental functional/aesthetic improvement of commoditized products.

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