Mackay et al. (2000) Reconfiguring the User: Using Rapid Application Development. Social Studies of Science 30(5). pp. 737-757

The paper presents an analysis of the role of ‘user’ in a rapid application development project. The article utilizes Woolgar’s idea of configuring the user as basis or background and extends it to how in addition to users also producers of technology are configured during technology development.

The main arguments of the paper are:

  • a research about configuring users and producers requires research about decoding and encoding technology
  • configuration is not a one-way process: both users and designers are configured
  • during the configuration processes, the boundary between designers and users is fluid, negotiated, constructed and managed
  • technology is not designed in isolated workshops but through broad actor networks

The introduction part of the article gives a nice overview of different definitions and interpretations of users in development projects and methods. The list of different types and names for users gives some hint on how complex the situation is. The article refers to e.g. patrons, clients, design interactors, end users, maintenance interactors, secondary users, the right user, user principals, sponsors, super users, skilled users, user managers, ambassadors and advisers.

I was not familiar with the RAD (rapid application development) process. Based on the article the RAD seems to be a user-centered process somewhere between waterfall and agile processes. Article defines user-centered approach as something where the users are not just providing information to the designer team but participate actively to the development process. Thus RAD resembles to participatory design. However, the authors explicitly state that unlike PD, RAD does not include a political agenda.

For me, the main finding of the research is the notion that RAD (and maybe other UCD processes and methdos) is not successful because it involves users and creates better requirements, but because it builds socio-technical networks that include the system and its users. “… argument is not that RAD leads to better systems, but that it enables designers to influence the consumption network in ways not allowed by other development methodologies” (pp 752).

Mackay, H., Carne, C., Beynon-Davies, P. & Tudhope, D. (2000) Reconfiguring the Users: Using Rapid Application Development, Social Studies of Science, 30(3), October 2000. pp. 737-757.