September 23, 2015

Before the Backlash, Let’s Redefine User-Centered Design

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on  

In the social sector, many are hailing “user-centered design” as a revolutionary advance. It is the first of the Principles for Digital Development (defined in consultation with nearly every major global development institution) and high-profile leaders like Melinda Gates are lauding the methodology. Amid all this buzz, commercial design firms are increasingly winning international development contracts …

… and development practitioners are increasingly disappointed with the results.

There is a backlash on the way, and for good reason. I have too often seen people use design principles about discarding assumptions as an excuse for ignorance of historical context. I have seen designers championing “creativity” as if it compensates for their lack of experience in developing countries. User-centered design was born out of the private sector, and many in my field are starting to wonder if the methodology just isn’t right for the complex global challenges staring us down…

Click here to read the full article on SSIR.

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