The Heart of the Builder

Sep Kamvar offers a very intelligent argument against user-centered design in this article:

The danger in user-centered design is that it releases the designer of the responsibility for having a vision for the world. Why have one when we can just ask users what they want? But this is a very limiting mindset. The user sees the world as it is. Our job as builders is to create the world as it could be.

I’m still undecided about where I fall on this spectrum. I do see the benefits of both approaches. But maybe user-centered design isn’t about asking what the user wants, but instead looking at the problems the user face and then use your powers to bridge the gap between your vision and reality through design. I am, once again, reminded of this Henry Ford quote:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

I can’t help but think that while Ford knew his customers were wrong about their self-proclaimed desires, he understood their fundamental need for a better, faster way of transportation. And that’s the an important part of user-centered design.

History has seen many great ideas fail because they were introduced at the wrong time or were designed in a vacuum. Combining user-centered design to a strong vision of the future might just be a good way to guard against that.