Dan Saffer of Adapative Path has an interesting write-up where he questions the need for user research in interaction design. Researching your users is pretty widely considered to be key ingredient to designing an effective user interface.
From the article:
Most experienced designers have enough expertise to get many products 80% designed without ever doing research, and sometimes that 80% is all that’s needed. Research can be a useful tool, but it can also be an ineffective waste of time. Good designers make good designs, not research. Even with good research, you can follow users (and time and money) down some serious rabbit holes, never to return.
If we step back and look at the predominant thinking around interaction design, user-centered design clearly dominates. And that’s a good thing. For data gathering, it’s good practice to research user profiles and needs, or at the very least, go through an inside-the-mind-of-the-user exercise to really get a good understanding of their goals.
While this is all well and good in terms of gatherng evidence, I think the breakdown occurs when it’s time to go and build. That user data does not transfer over into a clear building strategy. That “magic” (and Dan himself calls it magic) happens in the designers mind. The role of user-centered design gives way at this point. It’s already done its job: established the backdrop for the real building that’s about to occur.
At the building phase, there’s a lot less known or agreed upon about how good design comes to be. It just sort of…happens. All that research and thinking and debating boils down to a few gut moves by a designer. We take the puzzles in front of a us and assemble the solution. As Dan quotes Michael Bierut: Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic.
I’m curious to hear if anyone actually has a methodology (even a rough one) that they use to attack a design effort. Or do they just stroll around the ol’ neighborhood waiting for the proverbial light bulb to go off.
In any case, I’m ok with this characterization. Heck, we’re not just designers. We’re magicians!