Question of the Day: What’s the difference between user-centered design and user participatory design?

User-centered design is an approach to designing and developing software or products where a professional team focuses on user needs in an iterative fashion throughout the product life cycle. The team usually consists of creative and business professionals of various stripes (information architects, visual designers, developers, project managers, writers, editors) who together strategize, plan, create, and implement a project.

User-centered design almost invariably yields good results both for the organization creating the product as well as for the users of the product.  Websites and apps will be more usable at the end of the day when created with a user-centered design process, because the users have their needs attended to.  Whether designed for work or play, utility or entertainment, the Website or app will be fine-tuned to the goals and requirements of the user, the language will be hand-crafted, and the site or app will not stray far from expected technical or content knowledge of the intended audience.

User participatory design, is when users either contribute to the design and content development process or manage the entire development process on their own.  Users take a more active involvement in the process and become a key group of stakeholders.  They “own” the end product in a way they usually do not in the more traditional user-centered design approach.

There are many varieties of user-participatory design. Users can….

  • Oversee and approve the content
  • Choose the look and feel
  • Decide on functionality
  • Create the content (e.g., on a social media site)
  • Create the entire product from scratch (i.e., a group Wiki)

Many UX professionals look at user-participatory design as an outgrowth and form of user-centered design.  The lines may be blurring over time, as social media sites and other forms of user-created content channels.

Whatever direction you wish to take on your project, involving the users is a good idea.  If you can get them to participate more fully (such as on enterprise projects), the likelihood of success goes up as well.

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