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Friday 09 March 2007

Producer vs. User Centred design?

Interesting article by Eric von Hippel writing in the Harvard Business Review (subscription only so no link to the actual piece I'm afraid).

He outlines some clear shortcomings in the way that large companies and governments fail to respond to user needs in the products they develop, and the way in which innovation in these companies is still 'producer-centred' rather than 'user-centred' i.e driven by what the company thinks is right as opposed to what users know is right. Taking up the 'open source' aesthetic, people are now prepared to adapt, play with and improve products when they doesn't meet their needs.

He gives as an example breakthrough medical products, such as heart-lung machines, and automated drug-pumps. These were developed by doctors at the leading edge of practise, rather than firms which manufacture medical equipment. This kind of thing has happened in other sectors such as sporting equipment and food products as well.

Hippel goes on to say that although companies are beginning to respond to this disconnect, government is slower on the uptake. Most government innovation budget is spent on technology and scientific research, not on research that focusses on user needs and requirements. As the article says: 'research shows that 70% to 80% of new product development that fails does so not for lack of advanced technology but because of a failure to understand users' needs'.

Things are different in Denmark (of course!), where the government, after realising that the country couldn't compete with others in traditional research and investment, prioritised 'user-centred innovation'. Funding is given to initiatives like DUCI - the Danish User-Centred Innovation Lab which is jointly run by the government and companies like Bang & Olufsen and Lego. Successful user-based research is fed back into commercial product development, leading to better user experiences and happy customers! Hopefully where Denmark leads, we follow...