We introduced our Advanced Diploma in User-Centred Design (UCD) at the beginning of this year. One of our grads, Sibusiso (affectionately known as S’bu), became one of our first UCD students. We tasked him with writing about his experiences on the programme and the discipline of User-Centred Design — which is no small ask. Here’s what he had to say:
The first thing I need to mention, before anything else, is that explaining the importance of human-centred design is deeply ambitious and very difficult, but I’m going to try. I believe that designers can’t grasp the true meaning and need for a Human-Centred Design approach without understanding the significance of their own experience. It’s essential that we consider all of our past learnings, experiences and unique traits to tell a story that’s entirely our own.
When I was a graphic designer, I always questioned whether my designs communicated my messaging effectively, and if so, did I place enough emphasis on the user’s needs through this designed dialogue? When I think about User-Centred Design (UCD), I imagine purpose through design; a clear guided pathway enabling me to understand my design intentions: “Why am I designing it like this?” and “ Why in this format?”. These questions can be applied to a variety of disciplines and vocations. For example, as a marketer, you would ask: “Have I empathised enough in order to understand my audience better?”, or “Have I chosen the necessary strategy to meet the needs of my users?”. These are the kinds of fundamental questions we need to ask, whether we’re planning a campaign, designing a new product or improving a service.
In UCD you learn to design for impulse through empathetic research methods. For years designers used to create bodies of work, products and services suited to the client’s needs, a brand’s strategic blueprint or, even more daring, to maintain an aesthetic appeal. Nonetheless, these methods gave rise for brands to innovate new products and ideate concepts that couldn’t be imagined a century ago. However, this also meant that “neighbourhoods” like the world wide web appropriated complexity in its design. This resulted in unethical designs, created to trick users in the personal trade of information; force-fed-advertising and “mazed” navigations.
Let me illustrate this with an example, let’s trackback to when I referred to the internet as a “neighbourhood”. On 6 August 1991, when the first web page went live, civilisation envisioned the internet as a space or “platform” one visited mainly for information. Still, since then, the world wide web now hosts over 1.5 billion websites. The average South African spends about 8 hours online each day. Now that you have an idea of how big the internet is, you can now imagine why this “space” has transcended from being a platform into a life-bred neighbourhood. We spend our hard-earned money on the internet, we even share our deepest thoughts, desires, and loved one’s memories. When you think of the internet as a neighbourhood (a place with many homes) it’s easier to understand why the term homepage embodies our attachment to this platform. These homes we’ve built within the internet need rules for us to navigate, as just in architecture, rules define the physical spaces that we live. Rooms need doors or uninterrupted paths for us to move through, just as a webpage has links and subpages intended for users to move through. Much like a house has windows for us to see through, a page with windows affords us the similar chance to investigate more through a new or open window, or by limit our view by closing the window. Without these rules, it’s hard for us to tell if these spaces are livable or even safe to explore. That’s why web-architects need to build webpages with consideration, ones that ultimately put the user’s need at the heart of the design.
These simple yet weighted analogies help us understand why these rules that define our spaces are important. UCD helps designers, coders, marketers and others navigate build spaces, products and services that users want to interact with.
I’ve got a lot out of my experience as a User-Centred Designer; not just that designing with purpose and meeting users’ needs is more practical and rewarding, but also not keeping the user at the centre of your design process means that you’re essentially designing for yourself.
About the author:
Sibusiso Mthimkulu is an Academic Project Manager and User Experience Designer for products at Red & Yellow. He facilitates the construction of new courses, programmes, communication points and products by ensuring there’s a positive user experience behind them. His end goal is to do a PhD in Interaction Design specialising in AI.