Self centered design vs user centered design: Its good, but in what context?

I started this train of thought last night on Twitter with the title of this post, that arrogance did not make for good human centered designers if they thought they knew better than their end users and were not listening to them. Dirk Knemeyer encouraged me to write it all out in more than 140 characters.

Apple is a popular example held up of this self centered approach to design, that customers were unlikely to know what they wanted so it was upto the powers that be to provide them with the latest greatest, shiny toy to drool over.

Apple’s target audience is more like themselves than disparate in incomes or infrastructure. Think about that for a minute. That has nothing to do with geography. Apple is an aspirational symbol of disposable income.

The price point, business model and distribution geography alone clearly demonstrates this focus. Certainly, anecdata points to the Kenyan taxi driver with an iPhone. All of the above characteristics create the aura of exclusivity, thus status symbolism for the common man on the street.

You have secure and daily access to electricity, the visible ownership of this product communicates, or at least have the money to pay for charging services.

Indubitably, Apple’s product design is “good”, if not “great” or “superfantastic”, but who is good for? And in which context?

“Good” in design (UCD) is not disconnected from context of customer’s needs, lives and environment. If it is, its art.

Industrial design’s roots are in commercial application and increasing saleability of product. Else, why invest in making something desirable?

If you find yourself answering “To make it desirable for its own sake”, distinguish that answer from “What is art?” as a question.

How many examples of “good” design award winners are we aware of that never made an splash in their intended market, much less a ripple?

The OLPC won design accolades. The LifeStraw won design awards. The d.light is in the British Museum. The Hippo Roller was going to change women’s work.

Where are they now?

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