User Centered Design Methods must also be User Centered: A Single Voice from the Field. A Study of User Centered Design in Practice
Licentiate thesis, 2010
The present study concerns itself with the usability of the user centered design methodology, as this is defined by ISO 9241-210 (ISO9241-210, 2009) and other international standards:
“[usability is the] extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use” (authors emphasis) (ISO9241-11, 1998; ISO9241-210, 2009, p. 3; ISO13407, 1999, p. 1),
From the outset of the study, it is speculated that low usability of the user centered design method could be a barrier in the context of the limited application this method appears to have within the maritime industry, and the research question posed is formulated as
‘Is the application of UCD according to ISO 9241-210 effective, efficient, satisfactory and easy to learn for those responsible for managing hardware and software design and redesign processes?’
I have sought the answer to the research question by way of practice, and have undertaken three user centered design projects, in a fully industrial context, in what I believe to be accordance to ISO 9241-210 (2009), as far as practically possible.
During the execution of these three projects, I have used the scientific principles of Reflective Practice (Schön, 1983), augmented with the budding tradition of Analytic Autoethnography (Anderson, 2006), to collect data, the subject being ‘those responsible for managing…software design’: myself, and my actions. Throughout that period, which lasted two years, I have kept a research diary, and from the more than 85.000 words, illustrations, files, presentations and other evidence, I have constructed six tales of the field, in the narrative tradition primarily described by van Maanen (1988), Stringer (2007), Anderson (2006) and Schön (1983), adding up to what I suggest contains the ‘thickness’ described by Geertz (1983).
With regard to validity and reliability, I have developed the appropriate concepts from Action Research (Herr & Anderson, 2005) and Ethnography (Fishman, 1999; Hammersley, 1992; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lützhöft, Nyce, & Petersen, 2010) to a level where I suggest they cover self-study. The thinking of Anderson (2006), Feldman (Feldman, 2003, 2007), Moon (2004), Bullough and Pinnegar (2001) and Winter
(2002) have been instrumental in this process, which culminates in a synthesis of validity and quality criteria that I suggest are applied to my own work – an application, however, I suggest is undertaken by the reader of this thesis, due to its fundamentally subjective nature.
Throughout the thesis it is stressed that the findings are believed to have local validity, but local validity only: they are not readily transferable, or if they are, the argument has neither been attempted nor presented. The research undertaken shows, within the stated validity space, that the user centered method as described by for instance ISO 9241-210 (2009) is effective, and does describe a process which leads to improved usability.
It however also shows that the learnability of the user centered design method leaves something to be desired, and furthermore, that the satisfaction of doing user centered design is lower than one could hope for.
It appears finally, in my view, that a number of issues are underrated in the current descriptions of user centered design:
The determination required to undertake and complete UCD;
The importance of achieving buy-in amongst all stakeholders;
The establishment of the faith in the iterative process of UCD;
The quest for consensus between team members and within the implementing organization;
The recognition that doing UCD is more than a development process, but appears to be a full-blown organizational change process;
The critical importance of creating and ‘jelling’ an effective, skilled and capable multidisciplinary team.
User Centered Design