Monday, May 26, 2008

Design- Human Centered Design vs Activity Centered Design?

As a design professional, our entire success and failure rests on -DESIGN. What is design? What are the basic types of design? When I tried to explore, I got very interesting insight from Don Normans website*.The same is my understanding and inspiration behind this article. He has discussed designs at a good length. To start with, there are two categories of design:

Human Centered Design (HCD)
Activity Centered Design (ACD)

HCD -The most crucial principle of HCD is to “know your user.” It is utmost important for any design to be created with a detailed deep knowledge of the users. Such design helps to overcome the poor design. By emphasizing the needs and abilities of those who were to use, usability and understandability of products can be improved.

One basic philosophy of HCD is to listen to users, to take their requirements and understanding seriously. Yes, listening to customers is always wise, but acceding to their requests, wishes and desires may lead to overly complex designs. Several major software companies, proud of their human-centered philosophy, suffer from this problem. Their design gets more complex and less understandable with each revision.

And what happens when a product is designed to be used by varied people or anyone in the world?

ACD -Activity-Centered philosophy tends to guard against this aspect as the focus is upon the Activity, not the Human. As a result, there is a cohesive, well-articulated design model. If a user suggestion fails to fit within this design model, it should be discarded. Alas, all too many companies, proud of listening to their users, would put it in.

ACDs are developed with a deep understanding of the activities that were to be learned or in other words skills required to be learned and later performed successfully. They are created by design teams. Difference lies as these designers used their own understanding of the activities to be learned and performed to determine how the design would be operating.

Here, what is needed is a strong, authoritative designer who can examine the requirements, and suggestions; and evaluate them in terms of skill to be imparted as end objective. When necessary, it is essential to be able to ignore the requests. This is the goal to cohesion and understandability. Sometimes what is needed is a design dictator who says, “Ignore what users say: I know what’s best for them.” The case of Apple Computer is illustrative. Apple’s products have long been admired for ease of use. Nonetheless, Apple replaced its well known, well-respected human interface design team with a single, authoritative (dictatorial) leader. Did usability suffer? On the contrary: its new products are considered prototypes of great design*.

The “listen to your users” produces incoherent designs. The “ignore your users” can produce horror stories, unless the person in charge has a clear vision or Conceptual Model for the product. The person in charge must follow that vision and not be afraid to ignore findings. Yes, listen to customers, but don’t always do what they say*.

Human-Centered Design guarantees good outcome as well as it leads to improvements of bad ones. Good Human-Centered Design will generally leads to lesser failures. It also ensures that products work as per expectations of the users. Are we aiming at good design only? We (most of us)dream and aspire for great design.We aspire for customer/ user's delight. I don't think, it can be achieved with just a Good Design. We need Great Design. For sure Great design can only be created through breaking the rules,Thinking beyound what is generally accepted and practiced,by pushing forward with a clear concept and conviction of the end result. In such case,we shall be ready for both great successes and great failures. If we want great rather than good, this is what we must do.

Note*-Column written for Interactions. © CACM, 2005.The definitive version was published in Interactions, 12. 4, (July + August, 2005). Pp. 14-19. There are excerpts of the same article used here for purely non- commercial use.


Ranit on May 27, 2008 at 8:12 AM said...

Excellent insights Manish! Thanks for sharing this.

I do have a question, though. I am trying to find a generic definition of design that encompases all the perspectives. I have found some definitions that are either applicable to specific situations or they don't have all elemnents included in them. Is this a good question to ask on ecube?

Manish Mohan on May 27, 2008 at 9:20 AM said...

The post is by Anamika and not by me.

Yes that is a good question to ask on eCube, here and on the Facebook group too. It will be great if you could share your perspective and insights and the others can build on it.

Martin Rayala, Ph.D. on May 27, 2008 at 3:43 PM said...

We've been addressing the "What is design?" question by starting with distinguishing design from fine art (museums and galleries), visual culture (crafts, folk art, popular media), and visual communication (scientific illustration, Edward Tufte stuff).

Then we look at design in four major areas - design of images (graphic design), objects (industrial design), environments (architecture, landscape, urban planning, set design), and experiences (interactive design, theme parks, video games).

Anamika B on May 27, 2008 at 6:45 PM said...

I completely agree with you Martin.To answer this question what is Design- One definitely needs to first look at the fields like Fine Art, Museums, Galleries, Exhibitions -Displays (temporary and permanent both, along with web galleries). Knowledge of these streams makes a designer more confident and aware as these are designs in practise, these are designs for common people, they have larger audience to cater and above all they are in existence as informal learning tools from ages.

Ron said...

"Good discussion. You speak of activity and human centered design. In my experience, however, it has mostly been "agreement centered design"! It is about generating agreement around diverse design thoughts of different stakeholders. The question then is, "Can there be a systematic way to 'generate agreement' among diverse stakeholders so as to arrive at the eventual design?" For example, should you have an initial hypothesis and then enrol others into it? If so, how? Or should a Designer's role, in today's world where more and more people have and express their opinions, be that of an aggregator and facilitator?"

Ranit on June 7, 2008 at 11:21 AM said...

I agree with Ron. Agreement-centered design is what happens more often. So in addition to being a good designer, one needs to be a good communicator to be able to convince all parties about the effectiveness of the design idea.

In my opinion, rapid prototyping can solve this problem to a certain extent. Similar to the old saying "A picture is worth a 1000 words", I would say, a prototype is worth a design description of 10000 words.

The problem is that rapid Prototyping could be a double-edged sword. You can easily overspend time and money on prototypes without being close to the final product.

However, I feel that this technique is not being explored/used as much as the traditional approaches, such as ADDIE.

Clark Starr on July 10, 2008 at 8:51 PM said...

Why does it require a definition? I'm not being flip. I just don't know what problem we're solving by defining it. When people ask what I do, I tell them "I figure what people should do in order to learn how to do something."

Obviously there's an iceberg-esque quantity of unseen definition in the "figure out what people should do..." part of that response. But I find it accurate.

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