User-Centred Design is dead? Which bits?

So, according to Jared Spool’s Keynote at IA Summit 08, “User-Centred Design is dead”. There’s a good write up by Mia Northrop of Avenue A | Razorfish here, and another by Molly Anglin of NLC here.

I usually love challenging the status quo and making bold claims to stimulate discussion. But in this case, I think it wasn’t particularly constructive. Why? Because for many people, UCD is a wooly philosophy that sits somewhere between the concepts of “putting users first”, Usability and, perhaps the vaguest of all terms, User Experience. To say UCD is dead raises the question, what exactly do you mean by UCD?

Let’s take a look at some excepts from Jared’s slides:


To say that “UCD never worked” implies that it’s a single thing. It’s not: it’s a container term. It’s a bit like the term ‘Web 2.0’: what goes inside depends on who’s holding it. Generally, though, the agreed constituents look a bit like this:


There are many different flavours, sizes and scales of UCD – different organisations tend to implement it differently in their design processes. So, unsurprisingly, those that love red tape and strict process will implement it in that way, while those that at the other end of the scale will use it as a flexible, lightweight approach.

So, should we really be throwing out a perfectly good container, or should be trying to hone and improve the recipe of things that go inside? Although Jared has overcooked his arguments, he’s done us all a service by stimulating a useful discussion about the recipe of effective design, regardless of what we call it.

Photo credits: Balakov on Flickr