There is one thing that bothers me about UX-design. One of the shortcomings of a user centered design approach, is that it only focuses on existing needs and not on new revolutionary ideas. For example, I don't believe that someone expressed the need of checkins to Foursquare or the whole theory of gamification, yet they managed to develop a highly successful digital product. (With a easy to understand interface of course.)

I've looked at a lot of research methods and they all seem to only focus on fixing bad but existing experiences such as identifying what tasks a site visitor wants to accomplish. By only focusing on task completion we only solve the hygiene factors.

The question is am I wrong? If so. please enlighten me.

  • I am not really sure I follow your question, are you suggesting that we should look at new design ideas which would prevent User issues?
    – Mervin
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 8:49
  • I retitled your question; User Centered Design is not the only way of doing UX design
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 13:03
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    I think we are back to Henry Ford and the 'Faster Horses' thing here - ie not the way that Steve Jobs claimed to work: money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0803/…
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 15:04
  • UX is focussed on the user's experience of X. What X is, and whether it's new, thus creating a new and unique user experience, really falls more under innovation or entrepreneurship. It's easy to get confused with web or software products, because the overwhelming percentage of them are created by developers and tech savvy people who build it, or can at least understand how it's possible. Whereas a nontech person needs loads of money to hire developers, likely without knowing what skills to look for, and make them sign nondisclosure contracts and hope nobody turns on them, just to have a shot.
    – Eric
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 12:53
  • ..continued: So with how excluded non-developers really are, it's easy to forget that creating some revolutionary new product on the web, is still creative entrepreneurship, not specifically web design, development, UX design, even though all of these things are involved.
    – Eric
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 12:56

4 Answers 4


Goals and vision are the question. User experience is the answer.

User experience is not just about what users need. It's about meeting the product owner's goals or vision, while taking user needs into consideration. These goals or vision might be revolutionary or conservative. In addition, if you research both the owner requirements and the users' needs well enough, you might find opportunities for innovation no one has ever thought of.

Regarding the case of Foursquare. Foursquare is actually a "sequel" venture of its co-founder Dennis Crowley. Crowley sold his first project - Dodgeball - to Google. This was a social platform for checking into bars and other venues and finding other friends nearby. This is not something discovered in user research, since this is not an actual "need". No one's missing it until they start using it. Once such a thing exists, even as a sketch or a prototype, you can start investigating into improving the experience. This can be done by either interviewing potential users on how they meet-up with friends currently and figuring out what such a service can help with, or by letting users use an early version and see how they react.

At Foursquare, they improved users engagement (ie. the rate and longevity of use) by introducing gamification elements. Indeed, many people didn't see a point in just checking in places. This means that they had a business problem - how can they attract users to re-visit more often - and they used user experience to solve it. With PBL (points, badges and leader boards), Foursquare became more attractive for the first users, who didn't have any friends logged in, by tapping into their psychological need for competition and achievement. This might not be a very innovative solution, but it created a unique service that millions enjoy.

  • I like your answer. I think the thing is how much a ux agency should own the tactics in order to solve the problem with attracting users to re-visit more often. That way UX isn't "only" about making the clients idea work. We should be a major part of creating ideas. This is what's being done in for example advertising. The client wouldn't approach an agency telling them about this great idea that only needs a good image and a nice headline. The client would explain what business problem that advertising should help him with. Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 22:19

User Experience is not devoted to suppress revolutionary ideas nor innovation. In fact User Experience is the opposite: making sure new ideas and innovation works the way users expect. User Experience has nothing to do with the business plan of Foursquare, but rather how to make the check-in User Experience as simple, easy to understand and joyful as possible. In short User Experience is all about making ideas work.

  • 2
    The readability of this answer would be immeasurably improved by the addition of a colon after the word opposite.
    – TRiG
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 11:33
  • 4
    @TRiG Thanks for your comment. I've "immeasurably improved" the answer according to your suggestion :-) Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 11:41
  • I have a background in advertising. When the client has asked for our help with for example increasing brand loyalty we could have approached the problem with creating a online service that complement his products. An agency that focus on user centered design would ask the client what he thinks should be done and built something that meet those requirements (and being user friendly). Therefore an agency like that wouldn't come up with any new ideas and it would've to accept the clients level of expertise. The client should also know what he would expect to get in return. Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 22:09
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    @Tony Bolero "An agency that focus on user centered design would ask the client what he thinks should be done". But its USER-centered not CLIENT-centered, so the agency would do user research and ask, visit, observe users and build what they found users need (together with the business needs of the client)
    – FrankL
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 12:12
  • @FrankL I tried to interpret Bennys statement about "user experience has nothing to do with the business plan" and making sure "new ideas and innovation works the way users expect" Therefore an agency need to document those ideas that the client have come up with and be sure that the user understand and likes them without adding new features. Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 14:29

UX - User Experience is the field of design enlighting and useable software.

UCD - User Centered Design is a process of how to achieve this.

So, UX can't be about hygiene factors by definition, because it is no process like agile, waterfall or UCD is. It's not about how to reach your goal, it's an area where you work.

User Centered Design

You said there is no invention in UCD as it's only looking for the current needs of users. And you are right. UCD done correct is only about the moment.

User-centered design can be characterized as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyses and foresee how users are likely to use a product, ...

Source: Wikipedia

Where the foresee is bound to the product, which is already there or in development. If one uses UCD for a new product, usually there is an extensive User Research project upfront in order to extract user needs for the requirements. Requirements are the base of UCD, because all design decisions can be traced back to a specific user need. This is a very engineers' driven approach of working.

The image below shows all steps involved in iterative UCD until the product is fine for shipment.

enter image description here

Source: UXPA

Design Thinking

There is a quite similar technique called Design Thinking (made popular by IDEO) and it has its emphasis on invention and ideation. Actually it puts more effort in brainstorming, thinking outside the box, design even if it's ridiculous at first glance...

The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

Source: IDEO

And you can see at image below, there is a step more called Brainstorm. That is probably the main difference ;) No, but the attitude of it. You are actively looking for innovative solutions rather than fulfillment of needs only. User needs aren't documented in detail and keep somehow diffuse in the experts brain, because it is a document-light process. For more other techniques but brainstorming see here.

Edit: One of the main differences to UCD is the extreme cooperative and interdisciplinary approach of Design Thinking. Here everyone can design solutions. UCD is driven by experts and others are taken for "data" input only.

enter image description here

Source: University of St.Gallen

More to read about Design Thinking: IDEO, University of St.Gallen, Interview at Fast Company and a quite comprehensive collection of papers at Sydney Design thinking Research Conference

Edit: Added LeanUx

Lean UX

LeanUx comes from the need of startups to quickly bring products on market without a big budget. It's the lightest process of the three.

Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of our work to light faster, with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed. [...] The team begins to provide their insights on the direction of the design as well as its feasibility. Changes are then made to the original idea, or perhaps it’s scrapped entirely and a new idea proposed. The initial investment in sketching is so minimal that there is no significant cost to completely rethinking the direction. Once a direction is agreed upon internally, a rough prototype helps to validate the idea with customers. That learning helps to refine the idea, and the cycle repeats.

Lean Startups mostly iterate their (working and sold) product from basic features to more advanced in order to earn money early (it's called minimal viable product MVP). An Agile touch gets LeanUx from its deliverable avoiding process. Ideally your prototype is coded in your target technology, so the prototype transforms smoothly into your product. In the image below you see the Leanux process.

enter image description here

Source: Smashing Magazine - LeanUX

The biggest difference to the above shown methologies is the lack of a research upfront. You do your concept in a dust and validate it internally first. The usability test with external users is the first contact of your idea/concept with reality. It's obvious, there is no research, no need finding, but a solution offering. That's startup - less money, less time. And one should mention it, no big risk of a failure, because solid companies can't risk a fail that easily. LeanUx is meant to be used in design phase only, so it can be used with Agile and even Waterfall easily.

More to read about LeanUx: Smashing Magazine - LeanUX and Jeff Gothelf about LeanUx

Edit2: Added Data Driven Design

Data Driven Design

Data (or Metrics) Driven Design is widely adopted by big online plattforms' or software vendors in order to optimize their product - namely conversion rate.

Every design choice is tested

Takes others experience with a grain of salt

Design is a logic problem

Rely on data for decision-making

Aesthetics are secondary

No detail is too small to test

Never trust your gut

Cold, calculating

Source: Joshoa Porter, Slideshare p10

Reading the sentences show an approach of objective and analytics-based decision making process. There aren't human experience, gut instinct nor arbitrary decisions, but pure experimental setups to see what works best. Even there isn't an idea, why it works best, it's just do it. Data Driven Design has its best benefits in optimizing software. Nothing is too small or minor to be optimized and wording can be optimized as well. With huge differences as an experiment of Dustin Curtis has shown. His goal was to improve the Click-through-rate of his twitter link and "minor" changes in several steps from "I'm on twitter" to "You should follow me on twitter here" increased the performance from 4.7% to 12.81%

Metrics-Driven Design Framework

1. Identify Business Objectives

Make sure the design team is aligned with the executive team

2. Map out your UX Lifecycle

What specific actions do people need to do in order for you to meet your business objectives?

3. Identify your Core Metrics

Metrics fall out of the UX lifecycle. Focus on the biggest and emergent hurdles over time.

4. Continuous Improvement Lifestyle

Changing the way we think about metrics and design will become crucial going forward.

In DDD all impact is measured by metrics. So, it's essential to define your core metrics first and use them to always control your product. Your goal is to optimize rather than to innovate. But this works well and precise even into smallest details. You ask "What works best in the current model?" rather than "What is the best possible model?". Therefore this process isn't suitable for innovation, but in testing a new and innovative product in comparison to the older, established one (AB testing). So, it can be combined with the former processes and be used for setting up a benchmark system. Data Driven Design has its benefits for clear communication of business values/sales/conversions in a language management is used to and understands.

More to read about Data Driven Design: Slideshare1, Slideshare2


So, one could say UCD is more an engineer attitude - problem found, problem solved. And in an engineers' attitude, all decision are traceable back to a requirement.

And Design Thinking is a designers' attitude - problem seen, play around, solution found. The ideation phase isn't really traceable, so the solution is a bit arbitrary.

LeanUx is out of a startup-mind - solution proposed, solution tested, solution refined. The emphasis lies on a fast product launch and gradual advancements.

Finally, Data Driven Design comes from a marketing perspective - set up business goal, test refinements, take best measured. It is not aiming for innovation, but optimization.


You may be seeing the general new-vs.-old dichotomy here. An estimated 65%-80%* of positions in software development are maintenance of existing systems. A large body of work is improving existing systems.

It's true - for UX as for other technologies - that successful novelties aren't always the logical conclusion of existing knowledge. That's why we call them revolutionary. There's no step-by-step instructions for innovation.

People experiment, try new things, new ideas without using a formal background - like a handrail it's both a help and a hurdle.

Once that happens, the new method will be analyzed and indexed and labeled. If there are multiple such novelties with a similar pattern, we formalize this e.g. in a "theory of gamification".

So I don't think UX is special in this regard.

It is the very nature of UX that it should get out of the way - the best user interface is no user interface. This can be seen as a "reluctance to experiment", but in this regard UX isn't "novelty-unfriendly" beyond the novelty unfriendliness of a reactor safety manager.

There's still enough room to try new things - and in UX it is very forgiving and easily accessible. So if that's what you like, there's room for you.

*) old-ish numbers but I doubt it changed much.

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