What is User Centred Design?
User Centred Design is an approach that supports the entire
development process with user-centred activities, in order
to create applications which are easy to use and are of added
value to the intended users.
When's the best time to start?
The best time to begin is when you are planning
a development project, so you can make a reasonable allocation
of ; resources to the User Centred Design process.
If you are already into development, then start your usability
planning today. Remember the first law of User Centred Design:
with real users early in the project
and frequently thereafter.
What should happen first?
Consider your end users' needs and create a plan
for usability activities. Such a plan should describe:
- the objectives, requirements, and constraints of the development
- the user groups, what they will do with the
application you are developing, and the anticipated environments
in which they will use it (context
- the user testing scenario,
how and when you propose to do this.
- the critical success factors and the quality factors for
the application project from the point of view of the developers
and the users (usability
- guidelines and resources
you should use to guide development, especially the most
appropriate testing methods for each phase of the project.
A good way to collect this information is at a stakeholder
The plan may need to be modified in the light of experience
during the project: it is not a problem to change it, so long
as you know what you are changing and why you are changing
it. Otherwise, you will follow a process of 'random mutation'.
Is user-centred design always iterative?
No, not necessarily. But don't forget that the process of
user centred design, although in principle applicable to a
one-off 'waterfall' type of development, is at its best in
an iterative development environment. The ISO
13407 standard explains how this can be structured.
Iteration can take place 'in the small', that is, within
each stage of a larger development plan; or it can take place
'in the large', that is, the whole development cycle can be
iterated several times. As you gain experience in iterative
development, you will realise that the concept of 'right first
time' is simply a dangerous myth.
Well, that's a start! What next?
You are going to have to develop some kind of standards for
the way your interface is going to look and feel, so that
it presents a consistent picture to the user and doesn't commit
some of the more elementary mistakes. Take a look at existing
Raise awareness about usability in the rest of the development
team by engaging them in usability topics. Bring your
manager into the discussions.
But what about the functionality?
Start by using disposable prototypes to try out some ideas
with people from your user group. Paper
prototyping is an excellent way to involve end users in
the early stages of design. As your ideas firm up with the
help of your user groups, you'll be starting to create more
which may contain portions of code that you can use for the
What are the best methods for user centred design?
Possible methods are shown in the Methods
Table. The choice of methods depends primarily on your
critical success and quality factors. However the maturity
level of your project or organisation with regards to User
Centred Design will certainly influence the process of method
In general, if you are working in an organisation low in
the maturity scale, then go for simple methods that will make
your point quickly, and let you demonstrate the value of the
approach as well as helping the project along.
If you are working in an organisation further up the maturity
scale, you'll find that the development team will expect factual,
objective information from you about the effects of design
decisions. You can now afford to use methods that will give
you detailed information but which may consume more resources.