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December 14, 2016

The Costs of User Centered Design

What is the Human cost of disruption brought in by our deep UX focus?

Will organisations ever look beyond just UX of their customers to other X’s that impact their design decisions? We all know the push-backs companies like Uber are facing from taxi drivers, city administrators and in some case, citizens themselves across the world. But there are growing number of instances when brilliant customer-pleasing ideas (often coming from the genius brains of unicorn founders and designers) that are having side-effects that are not just disruptive but dangerous and damaging. And leading to anger and anguish across societies.

Some cases to point:

  • People died at Bangalore streets got flooded this year. The cause (beyond heavy rains) is always clogged drains. Among the major culprits – styrofoam, cardboard and other packing material used by #e-commerce companies like #Amazon and #Flipkart that end up in garbage and make their way into the sewers.
  • An musician friend in NYC was telling me that it is difficult to sustain as an artist as revenues from record sales are plummeting. The reason – sharing on #AppleMusic and others, where one can access songs for a monthly fee and not buy an album any more. Result – old artists are forced out of retirement to go on tours, as Donald Fagen of Steely Dan recently pointed out, and budding musicians are thinking twice about taking the plunge.
  • The same challenge faces young authors, who are now finding royalty earnings difficult as #Amazon is driving down prices by pushing publishers and who in turn are squeezing authors to compromise on their earnings. Result: authors are not sure if they will make enough to sustain, and some are giving up before trying, making the reading world lose out.
  • There are also many reports on how communities are responding to the “boom” in tourism. On one side we have citizens like those in AmsterdamBarcelona, Venice and other cities taking to streets against the huge increase of tourist arrivals that are threatening to disrupt local cultures and economies. On the other is the steady increase in popularity of companies like #AirBnB, which, while being great for travellers, is making renting apartments in cities increasingly difficult for people, especially students and lower income groups.

Can companies think of long-term impact and other effects of their business models more systemically? More holistically, keeping in mind the larger picture? Beyond customer acquisition numbers, valuations and ROI?

When will Human-Centred Design become Society-Centered or Humanity-Centered Design?


Our recent work in #DesignThinking has looked into this deeply, and tried to address the challenge keeping all sides in mind – profitability, ecological and societal impact, and UX. The journeys are fascinating, unearthing nuances and new details that are often overlooked, to find #sustainable solutions.

Isn’t #innovation all about that?

Anirban Bhattacharya

Anirban Bhattacharya

Now Hiring! Founder at ubqt Design Thinking School. Founder at The Painted Sky

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