User-centered design: For, by, or with users?

Designing with empathy isn’t just about understanding the user, it’s about talking with and involving them. We are endlessly grateful to our super users for everything they give us on our product building journey.

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Pulse Audition : Design for or with users

Designing for users can be understood as designing on behalf of users (Eason 1995). Sometimes, “the role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of [their] guests” (C. Eames). This type of design is appropriate for aspects of a project that require expertise found within the product team.

But shouldn’t it be the people using a design who are deciding what’s best for themselves?  

From a design by users’ mindset, we consider users’ experiences and perception firsthand. Today, let’s refer to it as design with users (since they’re not signing off on decisions, either). In this sense, the role of a designer is also at times that of a good, thoughtful detective piecing together many parts of many peoples’ stories to understand and ultimately solve a problem.  

Talk to one user... start jumping to a solution. Talk to 5+ users... start understanding the problem.” – Luke Wroblewski

These two perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive: designing both for and with users is necessary. Product teams must identify areas to act as experts representing users’ best interests, and those to act as facilitators, closely studying and integrating feedback.

We don’t expect our users to tell us how to write our code or design our electronic architecture, but we include them while considering perceived audio quality, aesthetics, how their features will affect daily routines, and much more.  

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Ultimately, every technical decision we make will have a downstream effect on our users. By actively engaging them in the entire design and development process through interviews, testing, questionnaires, and focus groups, we continuously consider the impact of our choices to best align them with the needs of real individuals.