Usability Design Methods

This article discusses some of the generalized definitions and critiques of different types of usability design methodologies. Generally people tend to advocate one type or another (User Centric, or Task Centric). However, most designers will tell you that while they may have strong primary preferences, going too far to one end or the other of either spectrum will limit the quality of your design. A good design focuses on all aspects of design in one way or another.

User Centric Design

• Goal-Directed Design
Identifies the goals and behaviors of users through personas and directly translates them into the design. Solutions are created by pairing personas with goal scenarios. (A goal is not the same as a task. For example a goal is to send your mom a birthday present, the tasks are ordering, choosing, and shipping the present.) Critics argue that goals are too ambiguous and take focus away from the activities and tasks required to meet the goal.

• User-Centered Design \ Human-Centered Design
Here the needs, wants and limitations of the end user of a product are given extensive attention throughout the design process. The users are researched thoroughly and user groups are characterized through the use of personas. Critics argue that tailoring a design to a specific set of users is to niche, and doesn’t put enough focus on the core tasks, or making something that will work well for everyone.

Task Centric Design

• Activity-Centered Design \ Task-Centered Design
All research and design is focused on the most efficient way complete an activity or set of tasks. Building a product that accomplishes specified tasks well for the majority of users. For example, basic garden tools were created this way. The iPod was also claimed to be designed this way. Critics say that this is too generic, and doesn’t necessarily take users wants and needs into account.

• Behavior-Centered Design
Focuses on designing product interactions based on the psychology of how people behave. Applying principles to design that use patterns relating to the psychology of how people are known to do actually complete activities. The focus is on behaviors and not about the individual peoples wants and needs. Critics say behavior is to irrational and lack the reasoning needed, and that it assumes that all people complete tasks in a similar way.

I’m interested to hear what kind of design you as a reader prefer, and your thoughts on the positives and negatives of the different methodologies.