Everyday identity and human-centered design

The Managing Identity in New Zealand conference has been an amazing experience. The organizers did a superb job constructing a uniquely valuable event, reflecting the thoughtfulness that’s present everywhere in the NZ government’s approach to its citizens’ identity.

I hope to have more time very soon to put together lots more thoughts on the many talks and conversations, but for now I just wanted to share the slides for the keynote I presented on Tuesday: The Design of Everyday Identity.

And one additional thought for now: I’m extremely sympathetic to the views of Doc and Adriana regarding the oddity of the phrase “user-centric”. I’ve remarked many times on the problems with assuming that people are always online and in front of a user agent (that is, “users”), and the very word describes people relative to the systems that are supposed to be helping them, which seems backwards — especially since the systems don’t seem to be too inclined to actually help them do what they want to do!

My research for this talk led me back to the classic ideas in Don Norman‘s usability work, where he invoked the phrase “human-centered design” starting back in the 80’s. I would happily switch to “human-centered” from “user-centric”, and I suspect it would help us all be more open to the many ways to achieve this goal, particularly if Don Norman’s cautionary tale is kept in mind.

(As always, you can find my presos and papers and such linked from my Publications page. See that page if you want a more extensive bibliography for the talk, and keep an eye out for the conference proceedings paper I’ll be finishing in the next couple of weeks.)

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4 Comments to “Everyday identity and human-centered design”

  1. Eric Norman 30 April 2008 at 4:23 pm #

    With my cynical hat on, I don’t have much hope that the developers, technophiles, that we all know and hang out with can produce something very useable. They don’t even speak the language; that’s the language that talks about affordances, constraints, mental models, etc. Personally, I think mental models are real importtant in this area. And the means the mental model that the user forms, not the one developers use; they’re often very different and developers and designers think it’s acceptable to require users to adopt their model.

    I will recommend Don Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things”.. Even though it’s mostly about doors — you heard me, doors — it discusses these concepts and near the end there’s a list of human-centered design principles.

  2. Eve 30 April 2008 at 6:19 pm #

    Eric– We can but try! I was surprised and pleased at the (large) number of Don Norman fans who came up to me afterwards in support of applying usability methodology to all our work. Maybe we just have to be more vocal about it. Applying the principles doesn’t have to be expensive; it just means we all have to be a bit more humble about our wonderful UI design abilities.

    I’ve recently had great experiences on a Sun project working with senior user experience engineer Jen McGinn, and Jen also contributed greatly to the analysis I did for the talk — so let me take this opportunity to thank her! Her approach gives me hope that ordinary non-experts can become better designers without taking a huge resource hit.

  3. Danny 1 May 2008 at 9:02 am #

    From the developer’s perspective, I think there’s an additional problem with “user agent”. On the Web it scopes things down to pretty much direct interaction with a browser (or RIA), forcing an artificial distinction between such systems and machine-oriented services. I believe this is drawing the line in the wrong place.

    Still from the dev angle, I think it helps to flip “user agent” around to meaning something approximately like “an agent which may behave like a person operating a browser/RIA”. Looking at the wire at that point allows the components to be built with reference to a common interface (essentially RESTful HTTP).

    Ok, so far this doesn’t sound like it helps the humans much. But if the machine components have a consistent interface, it enables a clear distinction to be made between the machine-machine comms and the human-machine comms. The latter interface is decoupled from the former, and there’s less likelihood of developers shoehorning designs for one into the other.

    It’s a bit paradoxical, but I also think this “agent which may behave like a person” model liberates the developer from the human-facing considerations.

    In essence this is only really about separating UI design from backend design, but traditional approaches to this have been developed on the desktop/LAN, a very different environment from having the whole Web as a backend.

  4. […] my recent talk on everyday identity, I suggested that login-time consent to data sharing is not a great example of human-centered […]