User Centred Designs… standing the test of time

The beautifully usable Alessi juicer by Philippe Stark

There’s no doubt aesthetics are important to me. That’s why, back in the day I bought an Alfa 156 instead of that slab-faced 3 series. And I loved that car… metallic black on red leather… mucho bellissimo. But come trade in time – well, “ouch” is all that needs to be said. Aesthetics are why we touch or move closer to an item, they’re what draws us in. If the aesthetics and feel are bad, we’re not likely to be interested.

If it looks good, I want to touch it and feel it, hoping that it will feel as good as it looks. There’s an anticipation that grows between the looking and touching that heightens the experience. But like that sloppy handshake that some people give, if the feel and touch isn’t quite right, you’re left feeling let down.

The ‘look and feel’ is the art of design. It’s the bit that instinct adds into the mix – magic, pixie dust or whatever you want to call it, its the elements that reach out to its intended user.

The classic Barcelona chair

Brody designed Face Magazine

But design is not art or at least not art alone. The science of design comes from the very fact that each item, whether an advert, brochure, logo, website, electronic device, exhibition, or whatever, has a specific purpose, and crucially, a ‘user’: the person who will utilise the item to achieve a desired result or outcome.

But even very mundane looking items can be successfully used for their purpose. They are used everyday all across the world. So why worry about the art, the aesthetics, or the feel of them? Perhaps we don’t need designers after all to meet our needs, when we have engineers.

Meeting the needs of the user should be a given – it would seem rude not too. However, creating joy in using something is what sets it apart from, and ahead of, all the other items intended for the same purpose.

The user must be at the centre of all design considerations in every aspect. Only by involving users can we ensure we ensure that using an item is an experience that they will want to repeat again and again.

User-centred design isn’t about ‘caving in’ to user feedback – it’s about building on it to craft something together that otherwise would never occur – something that goes beyond a designer’s and a user’s expectations – something beautiful and usable. You might say beautifully usable. These are the designs, which people enjoy living and working with, because in some way they enhance their circumstances to help then achieve their objectives and that’s why these designs stand the test of time.

Steve Jobs launching his ipod... already a design classic!

“Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Steve Jobs


  1. Richard Forshaw
    Posted Wednesday 23rd February 2011 at 10:56 AM | Permalink | Reply

    The 156 is also a rare Alpha that doesn’t fall apart between the forecourt and your home… Too often Alpha Romeo are a by-word for style over content.

  2. Posted Wednesday 23rd February 2011 at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Reply

    It was a great car, turning circle a little large but other than that it gave me what i was looking for… but as soon as we had our 3rd bundle of joy who needed a car or booster seat, I’m afraid my user needs changed… shame but I’d take our Molly over the alfa all day!

  3. Neil Foster
    Posted Wednesday 23rd February 2011 at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    A wonderful and elegant article Ian.

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