After reading Bridging the gap with requirements definition I suddenly remembered my favorite example of design-urge overcoming user-centeredness.
My grandparents hired my step-grandmother’s son to design their house. He’s a formal architect, and had studied Frank Lloyd Wright. My step-grandmother is a tiny woman… 4’10” or the like. really tiny. A while back, I was in the house the architect designed for my grandparents, and she was complaining about this house. It seems that she had thought that this would be the first time she would finally have a kitchen that fit her. But no, like every kitchen she’d ever encountered, most of the cupboards are up too high for her to reach.
Even worse, as she’s grown older, she can’t stand atop a stepstool as easily as she did when she was younger.
So what happened? The architect certainly knew the house owner was tiny– he had known her literally all his life. He knew her age and fragility as well.
I have two theories… one is that he was so excited to design a house– architects get to do this less and less– he forgot who he was building it for and built his dream house without considering the inhabitants. My second thought is that the patterns of kitchen were so deeply imbedded in his head he forgot they could be changed. I hope to see my uncle-in-law again sometime, so I can ask. For now I just see their house as a message to remember the person who must spend hours with the thing you design, while you’ve moved off to the next fun challenge.
Requirements gathering, especially user requirements, can make a big difference to the pleasure your design affords.