Define the "User Centered Design" process

27 Nov 2007 - 8:52pm
6 years ago
14 replies
2816 reads
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

I know I'm asking for a war here, but let's try it anyway. I think if we
came up with a common definition of what a UCD process looks like, it would
be a lot easier to settle some of these debates.

Some have said UCD simply means keeping the user at the forefront of your
attention while doing design work. Some have said it means creating personas
and scenarios, doing thorough user research, etc. Some have said ad-hoc
personas are suitable in many situations. The list goes on. But my
understanding has always been that UCD is a process. As such, I'd like to
either find out I'm wrong, or determine exactly what constitutes a UCD
process.

So tell me, dear IxDA cohorts: what exactly is UCD?

Let the battles begin!

-r-

Comments

27 Nov 2007 - 9:10pm
Itamar Medeiros
2006

Well... if you want something more like a proper definition, UPA comes
up with a simple one: "User-centered design (UCD) is an approach to
design that grounds the process in information about the people who
will use the product. UCD processes focus on users through the
planning, design and development of a product."
http://www.upassoc.org/usability_resources/about_usability/what_is_ucd.html

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=23005

27 Nov 2007 - 10:12pm
SemanticWill
2007

Hmmm Robert - I know a word can be defined - but not a process. We are
not disagreeing, and to some extent what matters is if the UCD process
a company is yielding positive results. Many who I have heard deride
ucd are either using a bad, broken, cheap process or have no idea what
a I've process is - tried making personas after reading an article in
Interactions or b&a - and then scratch their heads and say things
like ucd doesn't work or personas dont work.

will evans
user experience architect
wkevans4 at gmail.com
617.281.1281

On Nov 27, 2007, at 8:52 PM, "Robert Hoekman, Jr." <robert at rhjr.net>
wrote:

> I know I'm asking for a war here, but let's try it anyway. I think
> if we
> came up with a common definition of what a UCD process looks like,
> it would
> be a lot easier to settle some of these debates.
>
> Some have said UCD simply means keeping the user at the forefront of
> your
> attention while doing design work. Some have said it means creating
> personas
> and scenarios, doing thorough user research, etc. Some have said ad-
> hoc
> personas are suitable in many situations. The list goes on. But my
> understanding has always been that UCD is a process. As such, I'd
> like to
> either find out I'm wrong, or determine exactly what constitutes a UCD
> process.
>
> So tell me, dear IxDA cohorts: what exactly is UCD?
>
> Let the battles begin!
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
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27 Nov 2007 - 10:32pm
White, Jeff
2007

I'm too drained from the personas thread. Can we take a week off? Kidding.

I'll take the easy way out and refer to UPAs definition, which I think
is a very good one:
http://www.upassoc.org/usability_resources/about_usability/what_is_ucd.html

Please note - they *suggest* activities for the 4 phases they have
defined. They don't say "you must do personas or whatever or else you
are an evil human being. Shame."

It's not the specific activities or deliverables, it's the concept. To
me at least. Don't design based on the subjective opinions of
stakeholders, marketing, engineers or designers. Get out in the real
world and learn about how humans interact with computers in general,
and specifically with the product you design - there are tons of ways
to do this. Design accordingly. Your designs will be better and you'll
be doing your clients a very big favor.

Jeff

On Nov 27, 2007 8:52 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
> I know I'm asking for a war here, but let's try it anyway. I think if we
> came up with a common definition of what a UCD process looks like, it would
> be a lot easier to settle some of these debates.
>
> Some have said UCD simply means keeping the user at the forefront of your
> attention while doing design work. Some have said it means creating personas
> and scenarios, doing thorough user research, etc. Some have said ad-hoc
> personas are suitable in many situations. The list goes on. But my
> understanding has always been that UCD is a process. As such, I'd like to
> either find out I'm wrong, or determine exactly what constitutes a UCD
> process.
>
> So tell me, dear IxDA cohorts: what exactly is UCD?
>
> Let the battles begin!
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

28 Nov 2007 - 2:05pm
the_lonely_seo
2007

Don't argue about who's design is the best: put it in front of a
user and find out what works.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=23005

29 Nov 2007 - 11:54am
Peter Merholz
2004

Ooh! This is an easy one.

There's no such thing as a "User-Centered Design" process.

User-centered design is a philosophy, a sensibility, not a process.

--peter

On Nov 27, 2007, at 5:52 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> I know I'm asking for a war here, but let's try it anyway. I think
> if we
> came up with a common definition of what a UCD process looks like,
> it would
> be a lot easier to settle some of these debates.
>
> Some have said UCD simply means keeping the user at the forefront of
> your
> attention while doing design work. Some have said it means creating
> personas
> and scenarios, doing thorough user research, etc. Some have said ad-
> hoc
> personas are suitable in many situations. The list goes on. But my
> understanding has always been that UCD is a process. As such, I'd
> like to
> either find out I'm wrong, or determine exactly what constitutes a UCD
> process.
>
> So tell me, dear IxDA cohorts: what exactly is UCD?
>
> Let the battles begin!
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

29 Nov 2007 - 12:23pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> There's no such thing as a "User-Centered Design" process.
>
> User-centered design is a philosophy, a sensibility, not a process.

I'm not convinced.

1. Define the problem
2. Determine the audience
3. Locate and interview representative users
4. Develop persona descriptions
5. Begin design

... etc. (I realize some elements overlap and others come and go as needed,
but you get the idea.)

These are the basic tenets of what UCDers talk about all the time. Sounds
like a process to me.

-r-

29 Nov 2007 - 1:01pm
andrew_hinton a...
2007

The process you describe is too narrow, in my view, to "define" UCD.

Not everyone uses personas, for example, or use only interviews
(ethnographic observation, eye tracking, all kinds of stuff is also used).

User-Centered Design is just what it says it is -- designing from an
understanding of intended users at the center, rather than putting
individual 'vision' or committee guesswork at the center. This is
something that hasn't always been taken for granted (and in many circles
still isn't).

I'm not sure if you can call something that broad a process but I guess
that depends on how you define 'process.'

That's not to say there aren't conventions and patterns in how we do this
kind of work, but those are instantiations, not the idea itself.

Again, it comes to semantics, and I'm as weary as anyone of those circular
talks. But this seems a pretty clear distinction to me.

---
Andrew Hinton
Vanguard User Experience Group
personal: inkblurt.com

29 Nov 2007 - 1:33pm
Christian Crumlish
2006

I may be mixing this up with something else, but didn't user-centered
design start as a method that actually involved users in the design
process? I have vague memories of a story involving a Scandinavian
country and something like city planning?

-xian-

On Nov 29, 2007 10:01 AM, <andrew_hinton at vanguard.com> wrote:
> The process you describe is too narrow, in my view, to "define" UCD.
>
> Not everyone uses personas, for example, or use only interviews
> (ethnographic observation, eye tracking, all kinds of stuff is also used).
>
>
> User-Centered Design is just what it says it is -- designing from an
> understanding of intended users at the center, rather than putting
> individual 'vision' or committee guesswork at the center. This is
> something that hasn't always been taken for granted (and in many circles
> still isn't).
>

29 Nov 2007 - 3:37pm
Peter Boersma
2003

Robert wrote:
> These are the basic tenets of what UCDers talk about all the time. Sounds
> like a process to me.

No, sounds like people who adhere a "philosophy" (Peterme) talking about their favorite design process, which includes methods that support a way of working that matches their philosophy.

It's a Venn diagram (of course!):
- all design processes should include some of the steps you mention ("define problem")
- many design processes will include steps that can also be found in a UCD-influenced design process ("determine the audience")
- all UCD-influenced design processes will include some of the UCD-steps (maybe "develop persona descriptions" but maybe not).

When I teach my "Interaction Design" training (which really is a "User Centered Design for interactive systems" training, but that is because I adhere to the UCD philosophy; another trainer adapted the material slightly to make it an "Activity Centered Design for interactive systems" training) I show the students the following description of User Centered Design:

"User experience and interface design in the context of creating software represents an approach that puts the user, rather than the system, at the center of the process. This philosophy, called user-centered design, incorporates user concerns and advocacy from the beginning of the design process and dictates the needs of the user should be foremost in any design decisions."
(From Microsoft’s MSDN Library, User Interface Design and Development section at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnanchor/html/anch_uidesigndev.asp )

Peter
--
Peter Boersma | Senior Interaction Designer | Info.nl
http://www.peterboersma.com/blog | http://www.info.nl

29 Nov 2007 - 1:15pm
Murli Nagasundaram
2007

This is good stuff. If we accept that any well-thought out process ought to
be founded on a sound philosophy (or paradigm/model/theory/etc.), why can't
UCD be BOTH a philosophy/paradigm as well as the label (rather than
definition) for a VARIETY of different processes. Which might beg the
question, is there such a thing as Non-User Centered Design? And while NUCD
might not be a philosophy, we do know that many designs develop with little
concern for the user, or alternatively, are Developer/Designer Centered.
Therefore UCD is a justifiable label.

I first encountered the term in the title of Norman and Draper's edited
collection of papers, UCSD (a clever title, since Norman was on the faculty
of UCSD at the time) two decades ago. I initially sneered at the title
since I thought, 'What other kind of systems design could there ever be.'
But the more I hung around geeks, the more I realized that being
user-centered was the exception rather than the norm among them; at least,
even when they believed they were being user-centered, they were, in fact,
merely projecting their own personas on to arbitrary users employing 'cold
logic'.

So, in conclusion, for those who always look the world through user-centered
lenses (and this is mostly a personality style issue, in my experience), the
term is redundant. And perhaps most IxD practitioners and theoreticians are
in fact UC. If so, then the term serves the purpose of at least signaling
to the rest of the world of their intent.

--
Murli Nagasundaram, Ph.D.
http://www.murli.com

29 Nov 2007 - 4:18pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> why can't
> UCD be BOTH a philosophy/paradigm as well as the label (rather than
> definition) for a VARIETY of different processes.

I think there are definitely going to be differences in process that still
qualify, but overall, there are a few specific things that are usually
associated with UCD, which is why I think of it a a process, I suppose.

Which might beg the
> question, is there such a thing as Non-User Centered Design?

Yes. UCD assumes the user is the center of focus (according to several
definitions so far in this thread). When I design, I put the activity at the
center. The user is part of the equation, but so is the system and its
possibilities, and the activity itself is the important factor. Not what
either side does exclusively, but the activity that both are required to
perform.

(OK, so that was pretty abstract, but yes, there is such a thing as non
user-centered process.)

-r-

29 Nov 2007 - 8:08pm
Petteri Hiisilä
2004

Robert Hoekman, Jr. kirjoitti 28.11.2007 kello 3:52:

> So tell me, dear IxDA cohorts: what exactly is UCD?

That's really hard to say. I'm not a UCD proponent even, because in
addition to user happiness, the technical feasibility and business
viability are almost always equally essential. Users are important,
but even they aren't the center of the world. There are those other
issues. I don't like xCD, whatever the x.

Designing for behavior has been so rare in the past, that most digital
stuff behave like computers and expect human beings to adapt. But it
doesn't mean that the users should take the whole stage. There are
other factors too, and asking which of those is more important is like
asking which is more important: breathing or eating.

But ISO 13407 is a standard for "Human-centred design processes for
interactive system". Maybe there's something that we could use to
define UCD/HCD, if it helps our cause: http://www.usabilitynet.org/tools/r_international.htm#13407

Personally I think that Cooper's Goal-Directed Design captures the
feasibility and viability aspects well. The design is directed by
goals, not centered at them. And not only user goals, but those others
too. But I give at least 3/4 of my time to think about the users. The
architect next room is responsible for the feasibility and the coders
are responsible for building it bug-free.

Thinking about business-related design, such as organizational
processes or material/information flow design (when applicable) is all
part of the behavior of the new solution. I hesitate to call that user-
centered. User-directed, maybe. But goal-directed feels better.

Thanks,
Petteri

--
Petteri Hiisilä
Senior Interaction Designer
iXDesign / +358505050123 /
petteri.hiisila at ixdesign.fi

"Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated."
- Tim Peters

29 Nov 2007 - 9:23pm
SemanticWill
2007

And from my readings and attendance at all day workshops and seminars - the
"Other" UCD - Usage Centered Design - is not User focused at all. The
actuall user not not the central focus of the design effort. What is at the
center of the design effort is a "conceptual model" of a particular usage
based on the, I suppose, ruminations of the person doing the conceptual
model. There is a strong de-emphasis on user interviews and research.

At least that is my interpretation of what I have heard the other ucd
advocates proclaiming.

On Nov 29, 2007 4:18 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:

> > why can't
> > UCD be BOTH a philosophy/paradigm as well as the label (rather than
> > definition) for a VARIETY of different processes.
>
>
> I think there are definitely going to be differences in process that still
> qualify, but overall, there are a few specific things that are usually
> associated with UCD, which is why I think of it a a process, I suppose.
>
> Which might beg the
> > question, is there such a thing as Non-User Centered Design?
>
>
> Yes. UCD assumes the user is the center of focus (according to several
> definitions so far in this thread). When I design, I put the activity at
> the
> center. The user is part of the equation, but so is the system and its
> possibilities, and the activity itself is the important factor. Not what
> either side does exclusively, but the activity that both are required to
> perform.
>
> (OK, so that was pretty abstract, but yes, there is such a thing as non
> user-centered process.)
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"
-------------------------------------------------------
will evans
user experience architect
wkevans4 at gmail.com
-------------------------------------------------------

30 Nov 2007 - 5:28am
Jonas Löwgren
2003

> xian:
> I may be mixing this up with something else, but didn't user-centered
> design start as a method that actually involved users in the design
> process? I have vague memories of a story involving a Scandinavian
> country and something like city planning?

<pompous_lecture>

There are several threads in the pre-history of user-centered design.
The one I believe you are thinking of is the Participatory Design
thread.

Participatory Design, or PD, is basically about users as co-
designers. Not data points for a persona or test subjects in a lab,
but full-bodied experts in their respective domains. PD is a method,
and/or a philosophy, and/or a set of techniques, aimed at combining
the users' expertise in their domain of practice with designers'
expertise in the design material in order to initiate sustainable
change processes supported by new technology.

More plainly: Users and designers create new products and services
together, doing what they are each good at, and learning from each
other.

There are PD projects in industrial engineering and automation back
in the 50s, and in architecture/urban planning in the 60s. For our
purposes, the history of PD starts in the 70s when a series of
information systems development projects was performed by Swedish,
Norwegian and Danish researchers in collaboration with workers in,
e.g., mechanical maintenance, healthcare and newspaper typesettting.
The projects were heavily supported by labor unions and motivated by
political, emancipatory reasons. Basically, workers were threatened
by management attempts to make their work more efficient through
automation. The PD projects were performed to explore alternatives
that were more respectful to the skills and professional value of the
workers.

The 80s saw a slow and steady growth of PD projects and knowledge.
Still political and emancipatory, still oriented towards workplace
settings, thus most favored in countries with a strong social-
democrat tradition and strong labor unions.

In the early 90s, there was a temporary surge of US interest in a re-
interpreted notion of PD as a way to increase user acceptance and
customer buy-in. Not very popular among the purists.

More recently, developments in PD have mostly concerned ways to
address non-workplace settings, heterogeneous user populations,
discretionary and hedonistic use, and innovative (as opposed to
incremental) design.

There is a moderately lively academic community in the field, which
you can explore through fora such as the annual Participatory Design
Conference and the Co-Design journal.

</pompous_lecture>

Other threads in the pre-history of user-centered design include
academic human-computer interaction (with concepts such as usability,
task analysis, experimental user testing, etc.), the human factors
movement in product design and engineering (think ergonomics and
cognitive ergonomics), the interest in field studies and ethnographic
methods within product design and architecture, and so on.

Regards,

Jonas Löwgren (Malmö University, Scandinavia)

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