As the economic reality tightens its grip on both the public and private sector, what part can user centered design play?
Firstly, within projects is it a "nice to have" or a necessity? Our experience is that it is an investment and the pay-off is in minimising the risk of later re-design when it's found that it can't be used by the user. Get it right first time - surely this is a tangible benefit to all projects.
What else can user centered design bring? Most strongly it is part of good design. Involving users and designing for them produces products and systems that are better. They are more usable and useful and are therefore better accepted and liked. This can give a competitive edge to the producer. In times when people are more careful and selective about what products and services they use this is critical.
A focus on the user can also enable innovation and getting more for less from the design process. Deliver what is useful and needed - ignore the rest.
Finally, these times are hard for almost all of us. What we need is design that can inspire, lift us up and make our lives easier. We need this now more than ever.