Disruptive design - The user is not always 'king'

Written by Finn Taylor on 6th December 2012

(Last updated 5th July 2016)

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One of the fundamental principals of user centric design is to put the user at the centre of the decision making process, championing the users experience at every step of the planning, design and development process. It is hard to argue with this principal. Everything we do as an Information architect or UX designer is about improving the users experience and journey online.

With this in mind, we have always focused on the principals of:

  • get me to what i want as simply as possible
  • do not distract me with un-necessary noise
  • keep it simple 
  • don't make me think - just make it work
  • and of course to deliver beautiful design and interaction, that helps facilitate these core principals. 

Whilst we as designers always need to balance business needs and objectives with those of the user, the general principal of user centric design states that a happy user will be more likely to buy your product or service,  trust your organisation or engage with what you have to say. 

We recently found the assumption that "the user is King" to be challenged by an intranet project for a large international client with over 25,000 daily users.

The project was always going to be challenging from an information architecture perspective as we needed to centralize and combine over 8,000 separate online spaces into one single organised environment. The more interesting challenge was however to break away from the core principals of user centric design.

The organisations new vision and strategy was about more than simply changing some product lines or departmental structures. Fundamental to this new strategy was the need for cultural and operational change on both an individual and team level.

Understanding this dynamic, the redesign of the clients intranet was obviously going to play a pivotal role in helping bring about  this internal cultural and behavioral change.

Whilst the obvious answer would be to develop some great internal marketing and educational materials, the reality is that in an organisation of 25,000 people, this was unlikely to deliver the radical change that was needed. At best it would bring around patchy change…At worst it would simply be a management strategy which made bold statements of intent, whilst failing to ignite the cultural shift required from within the organisation.

We therefore needed to use what I call 'disruptive design principals' to:

  • create IA's which force the user to think/work to achieve their objective, ultimately changing how they would go about something
  • designing processes to be longer and less efficient so the user could be internally marketed to and re-trained whilst trying to find what they wanted 

Applying these principals in sometimes subtle and at other times more obvious ways created a very different dynamic within the intranet, offering an environment where the user could not continue with their old patterns of thought.

Having spent most of my professional life focusing on arranging structures and layouts to be intuitive and optimised, is was an interesting and challenging process to intentionally design disrupters to impair the users journey. When thinking a little more laterally about the strategic needs of the client, building in disrupters into the users journey became an powerful design tool for helping to change the internal culture within the company. 

Whilst the principals of user centric design still holds true… a happy visitor is more likely to love your company, applying disruptors into the users journey can help to ensure the user switches off their  "auto pilot", and engages in a more effective manner.

by Finn Taylor

  • Finn Taylor

    Finn Taylor

    Finn is a founding director of Liquid Light, and he still (after 22 years of web design) likes to get involved in projects. When he is not worrying about the clients, he is studying Chinese medicine, working with young criminals and doing spartan challenges.

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