MARTI, P. AND BANNON, L.J. 2009. Exploring User-Centred Design in Practice: Some Caveats. Knowledge, Technology & Policy 22, 1, 7

Marti and Bannon [Marti and Bannon 2009] re-iterate UCD from its now well-established definitions and foundation (see [Norman and Draper 1986] [Gould and Lewis 1985; Gould et al. 1991] and ISO 13407) via the key principles by Gulliksen et al. [Gulliksen et al. 2003]. They outline the transition from users as objects to user involvement, user participation and co-creation. They point out the necessity to tailor the both the process and methods to the target users and also to take into account the current stage in the design process. How users should participate in the design process and in what stages are under debate. “This (UCD) involves intense commitment on the part of both users and designers to acknowledge each others competencies and inadequacies and to attempt to construct a mutual dialogue [Marti and Bannon 2009].”

Marti and Bannon [Marti and Bannon 2009] argue that users often have difficulties in comprehending the technological potential, and they have limited skills in envisioning new use scenarios. Especially children often are defocused from design tasks unless presented with an external representation of the final system. The authors thus suggest that the design phase should not include users from fore mentioned limited capability groups, but they could participate only after low fidelity demonstrators are available.

“user-centred and even user-involved design needs to be developed with a sensitivity to the work environment, the ages and skills of the users and mesh with the particular phase of the design process [Marti and Bannon 2009].”

The other example of a user group demanding special measures are people in domains like health care or rehabilitation. The authors’ argue that direct observation or collaboration could be inappropriate and unethical, as well as of little utility. They prefer “light observation” of the actual subjects and more thorough dialog with the other people surrounding the actual end users such as therapists and care givers – “the ecology of the environment in its complexity and richness”. These indirect users can become co-creators continuously assessing the solution and coming up with novel activities to them. Lack of limited contact with users was dealt with conducting both user-driven and designer-driven development in parallel.

They outline a few problems in working with users. The users may lack necessary skills to engage in a design project, both at the level of design skills (brainstorming and sketching), have difficulties in expressing or communicating their concept ideas or at the level of project management as mundane as reserving sufficient time to be part of the design team.

Sometimes involving users into the design process is unnecessary or even detrimental to the project. Marti and Bannon quote Webb [Webb 1996] quoting Woolgard [Woolgar 1994] in problems relating to gathering requirements:

  • users don’t know what they need
  • users don’t know what is good for them
  • users can’t articulate their needs, even when they do know them
  • users change their mind
  • users say different things to different people
  • users disagree with other users about what they need
  • users may not be real users at all.

“User studies can easily confuse what users want with what they truly need. Rapid iterative prototyping can often be a sloppy substitute for thoughtful and systematic design” [Constantine and Lockwood 2002].

“Integrating users into certain design practices can be difficult, especially in situations where users may have certain fixed views on what is required, which may be difficult to incorporate into the design team’s overall aesthetic design. [Marti and Bannon 2009]”

Consumer products are often technology and market driven thus user involvement in early stages is difficult. Use of new emerging technologies is also difficult for the users to grasp.

Marti and Bannon also claim that researchers of HCI are more prone to earlier user involvement than is accustomed in professional design teams, where users are only involved at specific stages e.g. requirement elicitation or assessment [Marti and Bannon 2009].