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Karel Vredenberg, Scott Isensee, and Carol Righi
User-Centered Design: An Integrated Approach
Book Review
—Reviewed by
L. J. F
Index Terms—Software design, software engineering, user-centered design.
This book results from a decade of presenting
the user-centered design (UCD) methodology for
hundreds of companies (p. xxiii) and appears to be
the book complement to the professional development
short course. Its purpose is to encourage software
developers to focus on the total user experience
of software products during the whole of the
development cycle. The notion of the “total user
experience” is valuable because it focuses attention on
the whole product-use cycle, from initial awareness
through productive use.
The book comprises five chapters. The first, “Taking
stock,” prompts the reader to review the current
situation in their company. The scenario painted is
of the stereotypical company with poor processes for
ensuring that product development methods produce
products satisfying the real needs of the customer
in a good whole-product experience. At the end of
the chapter, the argument that usable products are
expensive is answered in a series of bulleted points
asserting that usable products are easier to use and
understand—thus reducing training and support, as
well as user discomfort and stress—and that they
improve productivity, product quality, and aesthetics,
thus providing a competitive advantage.
The second chapter, “The Integrated Approach,”
describes the principles of the UCD approach.
The six principles are to: (1) set business goals;
(2) understand the customers; (3) design the total
customer experience from advertising to end-of-use;
(4) perform rigorous evaluation of designs; (5) assess
product competitiveness against all direct and
indirect competitors; and (6) manage the project for
a single coherent good for the user product. This
chapter suggests that the development team should
Manuscript received October 26, 2003; revised October 30,
2003. The reviewer is with Systems Engineering and Evaluation
Centre, University of South Australia, Mawson Lakes 5095,
Australia (email:
IEEE DOI 10.1109/TPC.2004.824283
Book Publisher:
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002, 246 pp.
with index, plus CD.
be multidisciplinary and include industrial design
and human–computer interface specialists, and that
any project needs a good leader and clear allocation of
responsibilities to people with the appropriate skills.
The authors also state that product design needs to
consider the needs of users in non-US cultures and
those with physical disabilities, such as impaired
vision (p. 54).
The third chapter, “Introducing the Approach,”
presents the problem of introducing a UCD-based
development culture into the stereotypical software
development house described in chapter 1. The
major points are the suggestion that a UCD program
commence with an awareness campaign so that
staff members understand the importance of UCD.
The authors also state that a UCD program is
easier to effect with executive support, and that a
suitable champion should be appointed. The methods
for persuading workers to implement the UCD
methodologies described in this chapter conform to
standard organizational cultural change methods,
such as using frequent small communications rather
than a single set-piece event, and applying the
methodology gradually rather than in a single big
The fourth chapter, “Deploying the Approach,”
opens by discussing the recruitment of subjects
to be used in UCD development. Processes for
recruitment, scheduling of sessions, legal issues, and
reimbursement of subjects are mentioned. However,
an absence visible to any university academic is
the issue of ethics in the use of human subjects in
projects performed for commercial gain. Whilst this
may be covered in local legislation, a total lack of
mention of the issue of ethics is a serious failing in
any work dealing with recruitment of human subjects
to participate in any kind of experimental work. In
addition, there is mention of “usability requirements”
(p. 112). What is unclear is whether the author uses
the word “requirement” in its common sense as a
common language statement of what is needed, or in
the rigorous sense of MIL-STD-490A Section 3, which
defines the form of “Requirement Statements” used
to definitively define the intended product or system
for both engineering and contractual purposes. This
0361-1434/04$20.00 © 2004 IEEE
ambiguity is nowhere clarified. A similar lack of
precision is found in the discussion of two methods
for working through what the product should do: the
task scenario and the object-oriented use case
method. The authors state that the use case method
describes the action from the product viewpoint,
whereas the need is for, and the task scenario
approach supports, analysis from the user viewpoint.
Unfortunately, both methods are described so briefly
that the reader cannot confidently proceed with the
use of either method. In the matter of usability testing,
the authors say that the tests must have a clearly
defined purpose and that, where the product design
includes internationalization of the product, there
must be a context-rich test environment. However,
these comments are not supported by deeper
discussions about how these ends can be fulfilled.
The fifth chapter, Optimizing Your Implementation of
the Approach, provides advice for improving certain
aspects of the UCD approach. The first major topic
revisits the recruitment of subjects and asserts the
benefit of ensuring subjects are not used too often, to
avoid study fatigue,and the need to respect privacy
laws and the practical experience of the subjects.
These are good points, but a very important issue
never discussed in the book is how to avoid bias
caused by the idiosyncrasies of particular subjects,
each of whom has particular opinions about what
is desirable in a user interface and the structure of
information implied by the user interface. Clearly,
usability reports or comments may be biased by
individual preferences, even among people who are
substantially representativeusers. There is a short
introduction of the idea of story-based design, in
which use, scenarios are described by means of
stories describing the sequence of use activities that
would be required for the product system to support
particular user-initiated transactions.
The book also includes a CD containing several very
short video clips which provide both motivational
content supporting the adoption of UCD and
introductory ideas concerning some of the techniques
mentioned in the book. The total duration of the
video content is 10 to 15 minutes. The brief clips
are provided to give readers ideas about how to
implement UCD in their own workplaces.
Both the book and the video are heavy on motivational
material, but light on the substance of the UCD
method or the analysis of process or procedure for
consistent and coherent development of UCD. Thus,
the book contrasts with works in systems engineering,
which often provide similar motivational content in
a brief introductory chapter, and follow that with a
methodology that has been demonstrated effective in
engaging a developer and customer in a relationship
that usually leads to the production of successful
innovative sociotechnical systems, normally orders of
magnitude more complex than the products envisaged
in this book. The systems engineering processes
used in the defense industry are often criticized as
overhead-intensive, and prompt a negative reaction
in those seeking to perform small-scale civilian
projects, claiming that the methods are massively too
expensive. Therefore, there is a place for a simplified
approach to product development that incorporates
awareness of all facets of the products life cycle,
including development, use, support, and the legacy
created by the product. This is the space claimed by
the authors as the domain of UCD, but what they have
presented as methodology is too fluid to be grasped.
The authors have correctly identified that the civilian
industry is concerned about the cost of any formal
process and have, therefore, stressed that the UCD
approach can be implemented in a scaled manner,
respecting the size and the issues involved in a
particular project. However, a more useful book would
be one that identifies a range of processes that can
be used, explaining the nature of those processes in
enough detail that a practitioner could confidently
implement each process, and providing guidelines
explaining when certain processes should be used
and when they should be laid aside. Such a work
would be a useful contribution to the field of product
development management, and would be useful to
both practicing professionals and in education. The
work I propose as more useful would make UCD
something that can be grasped and applied rather
than the chameleon it appears in the present work,
where it seems to be all things to all people, but
nothing in particular. The present book appears to
be targeted at jolting software developers from the
technocentrism common to many, to a user-centered
attitude shared by a part of the developer community.
The structure of the present book reminds me of
computer manuals postintroduction of the IBM
PC. The manuals are part of a flexible, multiply
configurable system, with the result that no manual
takes the novice user from the physical arrangement
of the product through to the details of use of the
applications software in a manual with a logical page
1. Rather, every manual pertains to a part of the
system and assumes the reader understands the
context of the whole system and seeks a reference
work for the part for which it purports to be a
manual. Such manuals contrast with manuals for
consumer machinery, such as washing machines.
Similarly, this book addresses part of the field, but
makes considerable assumptions about the readers
knowledge and access to other materials, which are
necessary to make the content of the book useful.
The existence of this book is a sad indictment of the
professional education process of software developers:
the functional cultural imperialism implied by the
take it or leave itattitude of many software vendors,
and the common vendor business model of shifting
a major part of the product validation process
to the customer, after shipping. By implication,
this book points to areas for improvement in the
education for and business practices in the software
development industry, which, if addressed, would
provide considerable improvements for all users of
software products.
... User-Centered Design (UCD) is defined as "a philosophy based on the needs and interests of the user, with an emphasis on making products usable and understandable" (Norman, 2013). UCD process has advocated the need to understand users before creating design solutions (Ferris, 2004). The need to understand users is argued to be the difference in mental model between a designer and a user (Wykes,1984). ...
... The need to understand users is argued to be the difference in mental model between a designer and a user (Wykes,1984). Therefore, a design solution produced without understanding users might not solve the actual problem or might be difficult to use (Norman, 2013); (Ferris, 2004); (Wykes,1984); (Corry, Frick and Hansen, 1997). It is due to UCD philosophy that many new design methods have been developed which try to involve users at almost every step of the design process, for example, participatory design, co design etc. HCI design is one the fields of industrial design which has a greater reliance on user information for taking design related decisions. ...
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... We are of the opinion that these aspects can be quite easily integrated by adopting an allround stakeholder perspective, as this study illustrates. One could argue that our service model design process shares a resemblance with user-centred design (UCD) processes [50,51]. While this is to some extent true with regard to the steps (identify needs, understand context and requirements, produce design solutions and evaluate these solutions), service model design does not focus on designing a user-friendly eHealth technology. ...
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