Cockton, G. Revisiting Usability’s Three Key Principles. alt.chi / CHI 2008.

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In his article Cockton goes through and criticizes Gould&Lewis’s key principles of user-centered design, i.e. early focus on users and tasks, empirical measurement, and iterative design. The end result of the article is harsh. The key principles have not “stood up to the passage of time”. In fact, Cockton argues that the key principles are not true principles but some post-hoc generalizations influenced by organizational and disciplinary values.

Cockton finds many problems with each of the principles and in addition argues that Gold and Lewis did not for example value or understand the meaning of design in software development. Much of the critique is based on the lack of evidence of the principles in the Gould & Lewis articles. Cockton states that empirical measurement and iterative design are not visible in given examples. Interestingly Cockton also identifies on of the Gold and Lewis’s product development examples as an example of using probes instead of iterative design.

It is quite easy to understand why the article was published in alt.chi and not as normal paper in CHI. This strong critique towards the nowadays legendary paper(s) and ‘accepted’ principles is unheard in CHI or UCD community. In the end Cockton reveals the hidden agenda, i.e. promotes his own approach of worth-centred design. However, the reasoning seems solid. It is difficult to e.g. cost-justify usability and user-centered activities. Perhaps a different approach, worth-centered; design thinking; or something different, could be a way to advance the agenda of HCI and UCD communities.

The article is a good reading for anyone interested in basic principles and philosophy of user-centered design.

Posted by Petri

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