What is UX Centered Design?

What is UX centered design? This is one of those situations where at least three different terms exist that mean the same darn thing. Man, I hate that kind of thing, and I’m sure you do, too. So, let’s first actually point out the two other terms that mean the same thing, before we go any further. It’s also called user centered design (UCD) and human centered design (HCD). But, like I said, they both mean UX centered design, too. We all wish that the community at large would pick one of the three, and make it the one term for this philosophy, but at this point, that’s not likely to happen, alas. So, what is it? Well, at its core, it’s not complicated to understand the mindset and goals of this philosophy. Basically, with UCD, the design of interfaces and navigation patterns for software and web interfaces is done with very strong, top priority focus on the needs of the user. This addresses things like various learning curved for different parts of the target demographic, and a lot of exercises in anticipating potential scenarios where the users operate the design with various circumstances at hand. The popularity of this philosophy is directly in response to the endlessly increasing complexity and power of software being created. As it grows more powerful, it becomes a greater hurdle for developers to design simple interfaces and navigation that give them full control over the powerful and complex functionality of these designs. This has resulted in two basic schools of thought for overcoming this problem, the older being simply making the interfaces completely customizable. Well, that can bring about problems of breaking standardization across the board with the software, and make training on modified layouts a big problem. Nonetheless, it is a popular and effective solution. But, given the problems, UCD has been getting a lot more attention of late, because it doesn’t break the standardization that effective training really needs. The problem, however, comes from the amount of time that goes into designing with this process. Every step of the process calls for interviewing cross sections of the demographic and a lot of idle brainstorming and hypothetical storytelling to imagine the various scenarios, reactions and needs that may be encountered by the customers. Along with this is a tendency to oversimplify things in many cases, or drag out a process with excessive hops and navigations, which can product a negative user experience in the other direction. However, UX centered design has its merits, if you can successfully find the balance between time burning, and oversimplification, which are the main soap boxes that detractors to the philosophies often stand on loudly. It’s true that we need some sort of solution that makes interacting with increasingly complex software easier for the users, and unless some miracle of science changes the ballgame for this in the near future, UCD or something like it is probably the best solution. However, at the moment, it’s not efficient, so I would suggest thinking about the potential problems, before you dive into embracing this controversial design philosophy. It can work, but sometimes, it doesn’t.
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com