Gulliksen et al. (2003) Key principles for user-centred systems design

The article describes (or lists) a collection of UCD principles that should be used to guide designing for usability. The authors do no believe that the existing abstract UCD definitions are adequate for ensuring usability. Instead they argue that general and non-specific definitions and guidelines make UCD a meaningless concept.

The presented principles are a result of observing and acting with several design/development projects (research method: action research). In the paper the authors however describe only one case as an example and fail to give any numbers (how many observed projects, how many successful products/services, etc.). Using only one case as an example is interesting since the article has been published in a journal. The described case is mentioned to having a very strong impact to the development of the 12 principles. And indeed many of the case’s observations are in line with the final principles. This makes one even more interested on the amount of studied projects etc. The described single project is also used to state that ISO 13407 and Gould et al. (1997) UCD principles are not sufficient to maintain a UCD approach in a project or an organization.

The article defines UCD and its key principles in a following way:

“User-centred system design (UCSD) is a process focusing on usability throughout the entire development process and further throughout the system life cycle. It is based on the following key principles:”

  • User focus – the goals of the activity, the work domain or context of use, the users’ goals, tasks and needs should early guide the development
  • Active user involvement – representative users should actively participate, early and continuously throughout the entire development process and throughout the system lifecycle
  • Evolutionary systems development – the systems development should be both iterative and incremental
  • Simple design representations – the design must be represented in such ways that it can be easily understood by users and all other stakeholders
  • Prototyping – early and continuously, prototypes should be used to visualize and evaluate ideas and design solutions in cooperation with the end users
  • Evaluate use in context – baselined usability goals and design criteria should control the development
  • Explicit and conscious design activities – the development process should contain dedicated design activities
  • A professional attitude – the development process should be performed by effective multidisciplinary teams
  • Usability champion – usability experts should be involved early and continuously throughout the development lifecycle
  • Holistic design – all aspects that influence the future use situation should be developed in parallel
  • Processes customization – the UCSD process must be specified, adapted and/or implemented locally in each organization
  • A user-centred attitude should always be established

Jan Gulliksen, Bengt Göransson, Inger Boivie, Stefan Blomkvist, Jenny Persson & Åsa Cajander (2003): Key principles for user-centred systems design , Behaviour & Information Technology, 22:6, 397-409. Available from: