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People-driven design

Design – whether software, physical items such as a classroom, or something as nebulous as learning and knowledge – has many entry points. For example, if an organization decides to design an online course, numerous approaches exist: determine content required, determine outcomes or skills needed, design for tools to be used, etc. David Armano emphasizes a people-driven design approach: “People-driven design starts with real people in mind. What they do, how they think, what their pain points are, why they like and dislike things and how they’ll use what you create for them.”
This approach is not suited as a sole approach (content, software, and other aspects need to be considered), but it is an important starting point and thread that should run through the entire design approach, and in the case of learning, right through to the end of the course. The problem in asking people what they want is that we then have to sacrifice our own assumptions. I had an experience of this nature in a recent course I taught. We (Peter Tittenberger and I) asked students to blog and user wikis for interaction and reflection. We discovered rather quickly that students didn’t share our affinity for blogging. They were uncomfortable with the experience of writing publicly. One group – due to the nature of their discussions (government employees) asked if they could hold their discussion in WebCT. What then is the role of user-based design? Do we “force” learners to continue with our approach because we know (so we think) that what we are asking them to do will be important in the long run? Or do we acquiesce when they provide resistance to the design we have imposed on their learning?


  1. Virginia Yonkers wrote:

    I think the problem most designers have is that they expect the outcomes of their design to be what they envisioned. A good designer starts with a goal (that should be co-created with the user). The design should not be expected to be a stagnant end point, but rather a living, evolving structure that allows for change as the environment and users change. Just think of where social software would be today if MySpace had not allowed for add-ons and different uses of its space or tried to control and limit users to just its original purpose.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  2. Guy Boulet wrote:

    I am kind of reluctant to give the learners what they want, simply because although they may know what they want, they may not always know what they need nor what is available to them.

    On a current project, our target population analysis showed that only 55% of learners would prefer self paced elearning content while 75% prefered traditional classroom training. But when we sent them a prototype of a lesson, the satisfaction rate was around 85%.

    One of the reasons of that is that 55% of the target population had never done an online course, so they did not know what it was like and therefore were reluctant to use it. Others may have had bad online experiences. But once we showed them what it was, most of them felt it was something they could use.

    I often talk to people who do not believe in distance learning. When I ask them if they have already done a distance course, over 80% say no. How can they dislike something they haven’t tried?

    Therefore, I think we must consider the learners preferences, but should we build everything around it whitout questioning what they want? I think we should propose them some solutions and look how they feel about them.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 9:12 am | Permalink