Human-Centric (was The Umbrella)

22 Apr 2004 - 8:51am
584 reads
Dan Saffer

On Apr 22, 2004, at 8:49 AM, Dave Collins wrote:
> If we don't only design for humans, who else do we design for? Other
> automated systems and animals are the only examples I can think of. (Or
> are you thinking of meta-entities such as groups of people?)

To say that we are human-centric or user-centric is to say that
individual humans are at the center of everything we design. This is a
good philosophy to have and certainly better than what came before. But
it isn't the only one and it's a little narcissistic :). Humans are
part of larger systems and sometimes we need to design or at least be
aware of those. Sometimes humans are only a part (an important part to
be sure) of the things we design.

Sometimes an individual's goals aren't as important as the goals of a
group of people. Is it more important that a goalie stop the ball or
that the team wins the game? The design of cities is all about this.

You could argue that designing for individuals is the best way to
design for systems. Of course, I think there's a lot of arguments
against that philosophy. The rapid destruction of our natural
environment by companies and individuals out to further their own goals
is a good example. Sometimes an individual's goals aren't as important
as the goals of humanity in general.

Aside from philosophy and ethics, we're also entering an era where
we're going to be designing things like software agents, robots, smart
environments, and automated systems that might have little to no
contact with humans. I don't think we should let programmers and
engineers, however well-intentioned, design these things alone. Even
without human contact, these things have implications for humans.

> Does usability really apply to automated systems?

Design != usability

More than usable here in automated systems, to me, is useful. Are the
systems we create useful (to individuals, to groups, to humanity)?


Dan Saffer
M.Des. Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University

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