What does it mean to be user-centred?

The term ‘user-centred design’ is most commonly used in relation to web design, but I think it’s a concept that could be applied to every presentation that you make, and every document that you write.

In everyday use, user-centred design is about meeting the needs of users. This means designing a website that is easy to navigate and where you can actually find what you are looking for. Similarly, a product that is designed with the user in mind will have the following features:

  • The buttons (or controls) will be in a sensible place and be the right size for your fingers to operate
  • The operating instructions will be clear and logical
  • The product will do what you expect it to do
  • It will make you feel satisfied (maybe even happy) when you use it

In his book ‘The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman makes the point that designers need to understand how people think before they can design products that people will find useful. This means taking the time to think about their view of the world and their mental models of how things work.

Reports and presentations are no different.

They are often written from the point of view of the writer and are not really intended for the audience or the reader. Far too often, no context is provided, or alternatively a whole lot of irrelevant information is provided. The worst offenders are people who include their organisational charts in presentations.

English: Organisational chart produced by the ...
English: Organisational chart produced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to describe the functioning of the United Nations system of human rights bodies. A form of public information material designed primarily to inform the public about United Nations activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An organisational chart is rarely of interest to your audience, unless the people in the audience actually appear on the chart. For external audiences, please feel free to skip the org chart, in fact, feel free to leave out any information that is not actually of interest to your audience.

When you are writing or developing a document that is meant to be informative, have a big think about what would actually be of interest to your audience and include that. If you feel you must tell people about how your organisation works, make sure that you tell them why this might impact on them. For example, if you have a customer service officer in every office across the state, this could enable you to have a good understanding of local issues that might affect your customers.

Make sure your information is clear and that your points flow logically from one to another. I read a lot of reports which are okay as drafts, but the content really needs editing and re-arranging. I see a lot of presentations where the author has clearly had an information dump, straight from their brain into the slides. It would be much better to sit down with a piece of paper and work out what it is that your audience might want to know and start with that. People are generally interested in anything that impacts on their wealth, health and happiness, so that would be a good place to start.

If you design your information with the user in mind, you will have a satisfied and happy audience.

Try it and let me know how it works out. I’d love to hear from you.




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