User-Centred Design and Technology-Mediated Services- Identifying and Addressing Challenges by Analysing Activities
Doctoral thesis, 2008
User-centred design has a focus on designing products to satisfy user needs rather than emanating from a technological starting point. Understanding user needs when developing products is considered a key component to achieve market success today.
User-centred design is almost always described as a way to design products that satisfy user needs. While the word product does not necessarily exclude services, it is the design of tangible goods (or in some cases software solutions) that generally is the issue. However, most products which are sold today are in fact containing some kind of service. Furthermore, services that are sold often include ‘traditional’ technology necessary for delivering the services – technology which is becoming increasingly complex. In such services the users are often required to interact with this technology in order to realise the service. Two examples are bus journeys, where the users have to travel onboard the bus, and Internet information services, where the users have to interact with a website. These services are technology-mediated.
The aim of this thesis was to explore how the user-centred design approach, normally used for designing tangible goods, can help in designing technology-mediated services. Three different research projects regarding technology-mediated services were studied. An activity-based framework was used to analyse, in retrospect, methods and outcomes of the three projects.
Challenges for designing technology-mediated services that satisfy user needs were identified. These challenges were found to be a consequence of two important prerequisites of designing technology-mediating services: the intangible and complex characteristics of services, and the need for users to interact with technology.
Technology-mediated services are special in relation to both tangible products and services. The main challenge lies in the fact that the two prerequisites must be considered concurrently. Today, user-centred design is not optimised to cope with this challenge. It needs to be complemented with new methods, but also new knowledge. The traditional methods in user-centred design can be useful, but the consequences of applying them to user-centred design instead of traditional products need to be understood. To achieve this understanding an activity-based approach to designing technology-mediated services is proposed. Within this thesis, three individually different areas related to technology-mediated services have been analysed on the basis of activity theoretical concepts. The potential of such an approach lies in its possibility to provide an organised and consistent way to investigate, describe, and understand technology-mediated services and how these affect people’s everyday activities.
When technology-mediated services are designed it is the users’ experience of the complete solution, including the technology and the service content, which is to satisfy user needs. Considering the user-technology interaction alone is not enough.