Why Doing User Observations First Is Wrong

by Kevin Godby

Donald Norman wrote an article suggesting that the “study first, design second” approach should be turned on its head—that you should design first, then study.

Here are some juicy quotes from the article:

All of us usability theorists have long argued for iterative design, trying to get rid of the lengthy, inflexible linear project schedules that stymie flexibility and change, that slows up projects. Instead, we have championed iterative design, with frequent, rapid prototyping and frequent, rapid test.

But wait a minute, our continual plea for up-front user studies, field observations, and the discovery of true user needs are a step backwards: they are a linear, inflexible process inserted prior to the design and coding stages. We are advocating a waterfall method for us, even as we deny it for others. Yes, folks. By saying we need time to do field studies, observations, rapid paper prototypes and the like, we are contradicting the very methods that we claim to be promoting.

I recommend reading the article in full. I would also love to see some discussion on the topic here. Why do you agree or disagree with Donald Norman?

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