Saturday, September 06, 2008
MBA Design Leadership elective - session 6
Humans v users
This class looked in detail at user-centred and human-centred design. Most of it was taken up with a practical exercise, using experential learning to examine how assumptions about end users of designs are built into them. A development of the idea of 'lead users' (von Hippel), the design method that involves following extreme users is a way to bring into focus the needs and desires of users whose activities might stress or break a design, or who know it inside out through their repeated use of it.
The class were given some props: a wheelchair; a pair of crutches; ear plugs; and modified sunglasses. I also asked the class to imagine being someone who could not speak English nor read the Roman alphabet. The students' task was to find out train times and ticket information (using the web, phone service or in person) and then buy a ticket and board a train. The point was not to examine just the needs of users with recognised disabilities (where design is often governed by legislation) but to consider also users whose use of a design is hampered by reduced vision or a hearing impairment. The photos show some of the MBAs playing their roles using their props, while others filmed, took photos and notes. (Our thanks to the staff at Oxford train station for their patience!)
The approaches called universal design (advocated by companies like Oxo whose Good Grips brand has created a new category of highly desirable home products easily used by older people) or inclusive design make an argument about designing to include people who may not fit the obvious marketing categories. This is can be an ethical argument, but it can also be seen as an opportunity for innovation.