“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Do UCD Methodologies really work?

After a debate on the IxDA list, I feel pushed to make this inquiry: (was going to tweet but way too long)

This might sound a bit off-putting, but I’m feeling desperate. Can someone please show me a Goal Directed Design or Contextual Inquiry project (any formal UCD methodology) that has had the same impact as the following products: Amazon, iPhone/iPod/MacOSX, Windows, NetFlix, TiVo, eBay, Craigslist, Google, WikiPedia, Facebook, etc.

Doing usability tests is not enough. I want to see an entire methodology from concept to deployment. If it is just an off research study or usability testing then it is just about philosophy & tool kits and not methodology.

I really hope there is something out there. Leave your comments here please.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • http://www.gravity7.com Adrian Chan


    Hear hear. Since I do social I can only comment on social. I don’t think goal directed design even applies in social cases. I think ucd needs to be approached from the perspective of user competencies and interests, oriented in turn to personal, interpersonal, social, and public interaction. None of these are explained by the functionalist approach that seeks to explain behavior on the basis of response to design/stimuli (events).

    Social interactions are grounded in context and can be framed with the help of insight into user motives and interests, as well as the context-providing organization of social interactions in the form of practices recognizable by multiple users. When those forms emerge as a kind of social pattern of interaction, they can become self-reproducing in a way, and “stick.” We can understand social media practices then as a number of pastimes, routines, games, and other interactions that manifest sufficient coherence, continuity, convention to frame the user experience.

    Basing ucd on frames of experience seems to me a more richly textured and accurate description of what’s going on, for the user, and in the aggregate, than a reductionist view of goal-oriented user actions. Sociology has long insisted on a view from social action and communication over a view from purposive and instrumental activity.

    If you find a methodology, please share!


  • http://twitter.com/erova Chris

    Are you looking for projects that target a general consumer population and are as successful and well-known as Amazon, TiVo, eBay, and the others you mention?

    Or are you also open to considering the niche products that most people never hear of, let alone interact? I’ll be the first to say the process of using UCD or goal-based methods for a project targeting 500 people and one of Amazon’s reach can be completely different.

    This topic really interests me. I’ve read my share of the opinions that usually find their way into this discussion, and I’d like to know how broad your perspective is when looking for a successful Goal/Activity/CI project.

    Just curious–

  • dave

    Well, I think that GDD & CI would claim that they work regardless of type of project (w/ minor alterations), so type of project shouldn’t matter. But I am looking for stellar consumer products that everyone knows.

  • http://www.ghostinthepixel.com Uday Gajendar

    Dave, thank you for asking the burning question that’s been on my mind every time the same old UCD debate erupts on the ixda list. I’ve been too afraid to so boldly put this question to the ixda list ;-) hehe.

    Perhaps it is a niche thing and “success” has to be moderated per the context of demonstration (ie, UCD methodology improved a horribly outdated medical billing app used by a small insurance company in Kansas, versus, say, the iTunes Music Store)…but still. If UCD is so amazing/spectacular/phenomenal, where’s the success stories?? Why aren’t they getting front-page coverage in BusinessWeek or Fast Company or ID, etc?

    I think UCD is important and valuable but it only gets you so far. It’s great in places that have no design savvy at all (like alot of IT-driven companies or small firms) but going beyond UCD is what results in a Dyson, Prius, Wii, iPhone, etc. IMHO. And that takes passion, creativity, imagination, emotional resonance, cultural expression, and yes…some “genius” too! none of which, in the “canon of UCD methodology”, is really captured or emphasized i’m afraid.

    But perhaps I’m wrong and someone can showcase these amazing UCD success examples so we can all learn…?

  • http://interfacedesign-littleabouteverything.blogs magda

    My experience with UCD

    I was taught in school that UCD is more or less the best you can get. As I said I applied it for my thesis, and I realized that even at theoretical level (see my first post on this http://interfacedesign-littleabouteverything.blogspot.com/) “something’s rotten in Denmark”. More than that I will say that, even if someone claims to have reached something through UCD, it is not possible to demonstrate that UCD has an effect.
    This project that I am working on is a requirements analysis that conducted have as example Mayhew’s book The Usability Engineering Lifecycle. A Practitioner’s Handbook for User Interface Design. I was enthusiastic at the beginning, but now I realize that if had spend that much time in trying to find design ideas, without working for a User Profile, with just a little ethnographical observation, I would have more to talk at moment about.


  • http://goodexperiencedesign.com Ambrose Little

    Uday, you hit on a critical point.. but then dismiss it. Success is not always (I would say usually) defined by innovation and marketplace smashes. Often it is just making things less bad or simply carving out a niche that’s big enough for you to have a comfortable life. Sometimes it has nothing to do with money/marketplace at all.

    IMO, the question here has limited value in a discussion of the overall value of UCD. It’s fine, ask away, but IMO, a lack of response doesn’t prove anything except that Apple is the exception, not the rule. :o)

  • http://ixd101.com Shane Morris

    UCD methodologies were developed in the ’90s when we were anxious to:
    – Demonstrate that usability was a ‘science’ not an ‘art’ (to get credibility).
    – Make usability approachable for the masses.

    My attitude to methodologies is that they are a way to ensure a solution that is at least adequate – particularly for the inexperienced. But they may be detrimental to generating an exceptional solution.


The archives run deep. Feel free to search older content using topic keywords.