The idea of user-centred design is now so prevalent that it scarcely needs any introduction.  In this modern world of customer focus, who could be against it?  I am in no position to knock it –  this blog has a set of posts labelled user-led design.  There is a risk, though, that it all gets pushed too far.  People aren’t on the whole very good at imagining the consequences of uncertain or discontinuous change, and there is a risk that the prospect of change is seen more negatively than the change itself would be.

Design is a way to innovate the meaning of things.  User-centred innovation is great for improving something incrementally – you ask people what they want and provide better solutions.  But to radically change a product’s meaning, you can’t always start from the users because they pull you towards an existing meaning.

A focus group almost killed Herman Miller’s Aeron chair.  It had a radical new meaning – it was an ergonomic machine that let you see its mechanism [the chair uses mesh covering rather than cushioning].  When Miller showed it to a focus group, they asked to see the upholstered version.

Roberto Verganti, interviewed in Design Council Magazine [but hidden behind an irritating registration wall]

It’s not clear from the short interview whether Verganti believes that the designer knows best, though he clearly believes that design is a highly professional activity, which is not at all the same thing.  Being able to imagine something new is far from being a universal skill, but it isn’t a licence to leave customers out of the process.