True User-Centered Design

By John Pickard, PhilaU ID Masters Candidate

“User-centered design” is a term that’s everywhere these days. In many cases, though, the user-centeredness of a project is about a person that only exists in the designer’s head. That’s not the case in the Philadelphia University MSID program.

Without real users you don’t get real data. We’re learning that users aren’t a mythical group, but instead are real people with real lives, habits and concerns. When immersed in the research phase of a project, it’s easy to focus on what you think you want to find out. But we’re finding that also being attuned to the “unknown unknowns” (i.e – what we didn’t know that we didn’t know) can lead to pivotal insights. These breakthroughs can only happen through close study and person-to-person conversation.

PhilaU MSID students conducting field research at a local community medical clinic.

Vacuums are a hard place to work and projects can suffocate. At Philadelphia University we don’t exist in a vacuum. The back and forth that we have with our user groups (this semester it’s been the Physician Assistant Program students and the residents of Germantown), has given us insight into where the user experience can truly be improved. We’ve made breakthroughs in a variety of areas from patient/physician relationships to lab coat design. Most things in the medical exam room environment have not been improved in a long time. Physicians are such professionals – intent on saving lives – that they don’t ask for much improvement. In many cases, they don’t even know they need it. The quantitative data that we’ve gathered will help to build the case for our solutions. Not only are we being taught the high standards that Philadelphia University has for industrial design, but also where to find real opportunities through quality research done with real people. This expanded, outwardly-focused role of the designer is where the ID field is moving.

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About corlettt

I teach industrial design at Philadelphia University.
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