Garrety, K. & Badham, R. (2004) User-Centered Design and the Normative Politics of Technology, Technology & Human Values, Vol. 29, No. 2. pp. 191-212

Garrety and Badham present an interesting case study of the introduction and use of UCD methods in a mining and manufacturing company in Australia. The paper focuses on politics on getting the UCD methods to work in practice. The described case is not a polished ideal UCD project where everything goes smoothly and in the end UCD methods/practices/practitioners save the day with some user/usage insight. On the contrary, the paper describes a UCD effort that needed to tackle many organizational and political obstacles (and was not able to tackle them all).

The main outcome of the case study is a notion that the potential of UCD methods does not lie in their ability to handle abstract concepts such as user or technology, but in unique situations that arise when people attempt to use them. The authors notice that although UCD methods formalize and simplify, they are very context dependent. As a result it is challenging to apply a method developed in other context (time, place, culture) and ont he other hand the methods themselves often include political programs (e.g. industrial democracy in Scandinavia). The conclusion of the study is quite bold. Only two methods (envisionment and KOMPASS) were tried out in the studied case and both of them were basically participatory design workshops. It is difficult to say whether the conclusions hold true with other kinds of UCD methods (e.g. usability testing)

Since the paper is about normative politics of technology and not about UCD itself, there are no conclusion on how UCD research should tackle the problem of transferability of method (knowledge) or if the observed problem is a real problem. Thus there are many possibilities for future research in UCD relating to Garrety’s and Badham’s study.