User centered design thinking: An approach to problem identification

By | December 11, 2012

What is user centered design thinking?
Lets break this phrase down, first into two parts of two words each,
user centered = being user centered means that your frame of reference for creating a system, a product or business model is always the potential or intended ‘user’. Immersion in the user’s environment, also known as ethnography or user research or user observations or whatever you want to call it, allows one to stand within the constraints and context of the environment in which your audience operates. 
This experience, thus, allows you to gather and collate insights into the context in which your implemented design will work to solve a problem or challenge.  More formal methods of information gathering such as camera studies, interviews and behavioural prototyping add metrics and data that help guide the intuitive response to a possible solution or first prototype of one.  One could say that becoming user centered means to pull oneself out of one’s own frame of reference in order to place oneself in another’s shoes.
Through this, we come to know the general constraints and outlines of the recommended approach or solution that will be the end deliverable of such an exercise.
Now we come to the infamous and much abused term, design thinking =  It is ultimately yet another attempt to find a name for a whole brain approach to problem solving, one that uses the logical analytical tools and frameworks of the business world as well as the fuzzier, more intuitive ones from the world of design. Key is knowing when to use which metric or tool in order to best communicate the intent of the proposed program, the goals to be achieved or the problem or challenge to be addressed thus providing a roadmap or direction for the prototype that is implemented in the field to be tweaked into or measured up against.
But overall, if the user centered design thinking approach to solving large scale systems design problems is to be successful, the key challenge is to frame the problem correctly at the outset.
Once we are able to frame the problem correctly, addressing the real challenge or the unmet or undiscovered need, as more formal product designers are wont say, the design brief essentially writes itself as there is always that overarching goal that one can measure one’s progress and results against. At each stage one asks are we addressing the correct problem or challenge?
Are we solving the right problem?

2 thoughts on “User centered design thinking: An approach to problem identification

  1. andrew korf

    Hey Niti – Do you have any examples or case studies you might share which you feel illustrate a successful implementation or use of the process?


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