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Two news stories caught my attention recently – the UK launch of the iPhone and the scandal at the BBC over naming Blue Peter’s kitten. 

You might not think they are related, or related to usability - but I beg to differ.

I never saw Steve Jobs when he visited Apple’s flagship London store to launch the iPhone in the UK, but I can guess what he was like – I watched the keynote at Macworld last year. 

I am sure he was genuinely delighted with the phone and enthusiastic about its features, although I’m sure noone knows better than him what could be improved – and no doubt will be in the next version.

Contrast this with the story about the BBC Children’s television programme Blue Peter (named after a flag in case you ask) and its competition to name its new pet kitten. 

Apparently the voting was favouring ‘Cookie’ but the production team did not like this answer so ‘decided’ that the winning name was ‘Socks’. Not a big deal you might think, although the media thought differently. But to me it reveals a complete disregard for the wishes of the viewers who voted.  

So the contrast is between people who empathise completely with their customers – because they are basically designing for themselves – and people who do not regard their customers' views as important enough to follow. 

One of the biggest problems for interface designers is truly understanding their users. Not all products are like i-Pods (as I discussed on our website recently…….) so designers do need to find more systematic ways of gathering context information and really understanding their users – which is where human-centred design comes in (as described in ISO 13407). 

That’s why we are offering 15 free places on our 1 day human-centred design course as part of our contribution to World Usability Day 2008. For a more details and information on how to apply please see the full article on our website.

One of the strengths of the human centred design process is that it provides a systematic way of encouraging designers to understand and empathise with their users, even if they are not people like the designers themselves. 

In our experience, user profiling and the use of personas really change attitudes – and help improve the fit between systems and users which in turn increases the likelihood that the system will deliver real business benefits.

Tom Stewart is joint MD of System Concepts.

Tom Stewart

Published 8 October, 2007 by Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart is Executive Chairman at System Concepts, and a guest blogger at Econsultancy. System Concepts can be followed on Twitter here, and Tom is also on Google+.

35 more posts from this author

Comments (2)



In what way is the iPhone an example of a company who "empathise completely with their customers"??? No 3rd party apps. Unlocked iPhones killed by software update.
If ever there was a case of a company who has a "we know best" attitude, it's Apple.

about 9 years ago


Tom Stewart

you are right about some of their commercial practices being unpopular with some customers. I guess in my defence I'd say that they still know what people want very well (hence the empathy) but in this case have decided not to go along that route for their own commercial reasons. In other words its a deliberate choice not an ignorance of customer needs (or wants). I still love my ipod though.

about 9 years ago

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