When is UCD not UCD?


I was reading the ISO standard for UCD and I started to think about the UX process I work within and how it is like the standard, and how it is not. One interesting aspect of the standard is that it is defined as iterative. I tend to work within a process where the research, design, and development phase are all actually somewhat reflective of a waterfall process. But, within each of those phases, we seem to adhere to an Agile process. There are parts that are iterative, and parts that are not. But I don’t consider that to be a process that is at odds with UCD.

So I got to wondering, at what point does UCD cease to be UCD?

I’m the type of person who believes that words mean things, and that if you call yourself a user centered designer, it would make sense that you would at least partially adhere to the standard. If not, call yourself something else. Of course, I’m not some purist where I believe there is only one interpretation of the standard, nor do I believe anyone must or should adhere to it 100%. (I’m not sure how you even would, given the high level at which it is specified.) But I do believe there must be some sort of line where user centered design must not be considered user centered design.

I was speaking about this with a colleague, and her off-the-cuff response was that she had worked for a firm in the past where there was no research, nor any research staff. They simply would just start a project with wireframes and would go from there. That sounds like a reasonable definition of what is not UCD. I’m sure there are other ways that a UX process could be considered at odds with UCD. But I’m not quite sure what those are just yet or how to categorize them.

What is the line in the sand for you? What is not UCD?


It’s an interesting thought. I tend to think that there are likely a number of levels of UCD rather than a simple “you are or you aren’t”. To me UCD is as simple as its name, it is simply designing with the user as the center focus. It starts to get more complicated when you start to consider how you know what the user needs. That is where the iterative part comes in I think. We can build a website with the best standards and what we believe are the best designs for the user but we won’t know if we’ve met their needs until the site launches and users start using it. Even if it is a smash success the user needs will eventually change meaning that the process will have to re-start.

With that in mind I think it may actually come down to that analysis phase. Anyone can design a good user interface using general user principals but gathering user experiences and tailoring a design to meet the users actual needs as evidenced by the experiences puts you into a true UCD environment.

That seems to match up with one of the standards other requirements. “The design id driven and refined by user-centered evaluation”.

Thanks for starting the discussion, that is an expensive paper to look at.


Yeah, I managed to get a copy from a local library.