Human centered design by accident

Before the whole world was accustomed to using the web for anything and everything, design wasn’t a priority. In the Geocities days (most of you have no idea what that is. The link will show you the magic), you would jam as much content as possible in the craziest way possible onto your site. UX wasn’t even a consideration, the goal was to provide all possible options for the user, and leave everything up to them.

I was the right age to look at these disastrous interfaces, and not only not be overwhelmed, but instead more curious.

For those who weren’t, they needed help doing virtually everything on their computer, and would ask the person they knew who was the most well versed. You spend hours walking them step by step through things that seem simple and trivial to you, “why is this so hard for them?”

Fast forward 10 years. While studying to be a designer, you realize that repeatedly helping Grandma learn to access her AOL mail has made you a better designer. You study alongside colleagues who commonly try to again jam as many cool things as possible onto a page, and on occasion you find yourself doing it to simply out of influence from your peers. But you struggle with what you think makes things simpler and easier, while balancing that with what your peers think looks boring.

A pattern begins to emerge; remembering what you’ve seen others have a hard time with, thinking of ways to improve that experience, iterating, responding to critiques and feedback from peers, iterating more, then presenting for consumption. This was the college design process, and without realizing it, runs parallel to human centered design.

The world went through an interesting evolution over the next decade. The focus was on exploring and presenting what you could do, not necessarily what made sense. Adding every new Flash element to every type of site simply because it was new and cool was the norm. Did it make sense to do so? Meh, why did that matter?

Then as people became more comfortable with the web, and content became king, the priority of UX came to light.

The more people rely on the web, the more important human centered design becomes. Because while web use grows, savviness grows at a much lower rate. You may already have to tools to improve this, like me, and just didn’t know it.