Rossana, what does Human Centered Design (HCD) mean?
It’s an approach where, in order to create a new product or service, the designer not only starts from his/her personal intuition, but above all,from listening to people’s needs, in a fully collaborative relationship between designer and user, which involves various subjects: Neurosciences, Cognitive Psychology, Ergonomics, etc.
This method can be applied to any industry and tool: from launching a new app in the pharmaceutical field, to a home banking platform, and from a physical object to a management system, up to an in-store experience.
How does it work then, on a day-to-day basis?
To put it into practice we use several techniques, which often derive from the world of anthropology. For example, we hold direct interviews in order to get to know the tastes and needs of the target, or we use so-called shadowing, where users are observed and timed when using the tool. It’s a matter of understanding the business requirements and the enabling technology to create a prototype that can be tested on people. After each test, we try to improve the product/service through an iterative process that eventually allows us to launch it on the market practically without failing. Obviously, this is an expensive, time-consuming process, but it is an investment that, in the long run allows the company to save on the costs and risks of a low-performance platform.
Are companies receptive to this method?
Customers often don’t know exactly what they want and only have a vague idea what the work of a UX designer is. The consultant must be able to create a good feeling, explain the methods, show some case studies, and find a common language. Sometimes it turns out that, in actual fact, just slightly modifying the existing product is enough, without investing large amounts of money. The role of a designer has also an ethical value in steering customers towards those solutions which they really need.
What are the aspects that a UX designer should never lose sight of?
A good designer knows how to hide complexity and to make elaborate processes easy and usable. An intuitive example is that of a form with 30 fields to be filled out. If we put them all on the same page, this will alarm the user. If we divide them over several screens with some incentivizing messages, the probability that the user will complete the form increases. A good user interface must be able to gratify, provoke positive emotions and avoid frustration using colors, fonts, images and texts consistent with this philosophy. It is also the professional’s responsibility to know when to say an occasional "no", helping the client to identify and eliminate the superfluous. Simple to use does not mean "meager".
What advice would you give to a recently graduated designer who would like to follow your path?
I would say that going to school is not enough to be a designer. You must be curious, always keep your eyes peeled and your feelers out because inputs can come from totally different fields. We must never stop asking and doing. Mistakes can teach us a lot, so you might as well jump right in.
You have to fail to succeed!