HelpUser-Centered Design


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

1. Discuss reasons for hard-to-use products.

2. Explain principles of user-centered design.

3. Identify at least one corporate strategy to approach user-centered design.

Reasons for Hard-to-Use Products

But why are some products so difficult to use, while others are easy to use? The following reasons for hard-to-use products are quoted from Rubin, J. (1994). Handbook of usability testing: How to plan, design, and conduct effective tests. NY: Wiley Technical Communication Library.

“1. During product development the emphasis and focus have been on the machine or system, not on the person who is the ultimate end user.”
“2. As technology has penetrated the mainstream consumer market, the target audience has changed and continues to change dramatically. Development organizations have been slow to react to this evolution.”

“3. The design of usable systems is a difficult, unpredictable endeavor, yet many organizations treat it as if it were just ‘common sense.’”

“4. Organizations employ very specialized teams and approaches to product and system development, yet fail to integrate them with each other.”

“5. The design of the user interface and the technical implementation of the user interface are different activities, requiring very different skills.”

Rubin has concentrated on the manufacturer and designer. Do you agree? Who else shares responsibility for "hard-to-use products?" (A rhetorical question that might lead to a Discussion Board posting)

User-Centered Design (UCD)

In response to an abundance of products that are difficult to use, there has been a movement toward "user-centered design" (UCD). Rubin (1994) lists the principles of UCD as:

“1. An early focus on users and tasks.”

“2. Empirical measurement of product usage.”

“3. Iterative design whereby a product is designed, modified, and tested repeatedly.”

Corporate Strategies

Modern manufacturing design and engineering technologies can be at odds with UCD. A conflicting approach, for example, is "Design for Manufacture," where parts have certain design characteristics to aid in the making of the part. But this need not be a contradiction with UCD. In fact, some corporate design strategies are well-suited to reconciling the needs of the manufacturer with the needs of the end user.

Among these are "participatory design," where the user is one of the members of the design team, and "concurrent engineering," where designs are not developed by an isolated department but by collaboration.

Impacts on Sustainability

Wever, van Kuijk, and Bocs (2008) suggested that there are sustainability implications for a product or system based on consumer behavior.  They suggested several strategies to improve this, including "functionality mapping, eco-feedback, scripting and forced functionality" (Conclusions section, para. 1). For more, read (optional):

Those in TEDU 510 can find this under the Assignments button in the TEDU 510 Blackboard site:

Wever, R., van Kuijk, J., & Boks, C. (2008). User-centered design for sustainable behaviour. International Journal of Sustainable Engineering, 1(1).

"User-Centered Design"
All information is subject to change without notification.
 © Jim Flowers
Department of Technology, Ball State University