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A UPA 1999 Workship Report by Whitney Quesenbery
User-centered design should be a core part of every software development effort yet, despite its well-documented paybacks, it has yet to be widely adopted. Too often, user-centered design remains the province of visionaries rather than the everyday practice of programmers and analysts. Despite a general consensus on a basic approach to user-centered design (UCD), there is little understanding of the process and how it fits into larger software development methodologies. A workshop was organized during the 1999 UPA conference to explore the reasons why UCD has failed to gain wide acceptance and to formulate a plan for promoting it.
We started with Geoffrey Moores model of new technology introduction, presented in his book Crossing the Chasm (Moore, 1991,1999). Moore argues that the progress of a new idea or product from the visionaries and early adopters to the more pragmatic mainstream group is not a smooth curve. Instead, a chasm exists between the visionaries who focus on the concept and its intellectual value and the early majority who want assurances that the new approach will serve a proven business purpose. Success and general acceptance requires not merely time and incremental gains, but a fundamental shift in the way the technology is promoted. Although Crossing the Chasm was written about product marketing, it applies just as well to our "marketing" of user centered design to the software development mainstream.
The participants in the workshop represented a broad spectrum of UCD practitioners. They are consultants and staff designers, working for commercial software developers, on internal corporate software and in academic environments. Their backgrounds include cognitive psychology, usability testing, teaching, technical communication, instructional design and programming. Typical projects covered an equally wide range of complexity and interaction requirements. Several of the participants had developed user-centered design methodologies.
The workshop started with individual introductions. The group quickly reached consensus on a list of shared goals for user-centered design. Almost all participants had been frustrated by the slow acceptance of UCD, even when their organization had clear evidence of its success. Our goals for the future centered on the establishment of user-centered design as an integral part of software development, and on having clear lines of communication with other participants in this process. We hoped that our work would lead a future in which:
Barriers to Acceptance
The first question we had to answer is what is preventing the mainstream from understanding and accepting usability and user-centered design. Most presentations of UCD focus on describing the process and techniques. Although case studies are typically used to demonstrate the value of the approach, they have often not had the desired effect. Rather than being understood as an example of a new paradigm, they are seen as exceptions or experiments. Moores model shows that the early majority wants not the "technology" itself, but a "whole product" solution that solves a business problem. Clearly we have not presented UCD in a way that meets their needs.
We used affinity grouping techniques to identify obstacles to acceptance and organize them into groups. The issues broke down into three areas:
For each of these areas, we then looked at how we contribute to creating barriers to acceptance and what we can do to overcome them. Business issues, not surprisingly, centered on time, budgets and determining the value or return on investment (ROI).
Possible solutions to these issues include
Many of the issues raised surrounded how user-centered design integrates with the rest of the software development team.
Solving these problems requires both business skills and the ability to clearly communicate the process, techniques and benefits of UCD.
Finally the user-centered design process and methodology can itself be a barrier to acceptance.
Better education materials and a clear, shared vision which can be communicated from many points of view are the keys so overcoming these obstacles.
This exercise helped us focus on how UCD practitioners can be proactive in changing the situation. Two main issues emerged from this work: a lack of business skills and a lack of a clear methodology which can be communicated. To cross the chasm we need to demonstrate not only that we understand and can address business issues but that user-centered design is a solution to a clearly definable problem.
Creating a Message to Sell Usability
The barriers exercise exposed many areas where the usability community can do more to not only educate other participants in software design, but also to present the case for UCD to software developers and business partners in their language.
Our first step was to identify all of the different people, so a value proposition could be tailored for each of them. This was more difficult than we anticipated. With so many different types of organizations represented, it was hard to agree on the list of stakeholders. We solved this problem by identifying not titles or corporate positions but roles in the software development process, no matter how many individuals fill them. For all of them, we identified risk as a major concern so our strategies focused on how user-centered design minimizes risk.
Using a Methodology to Sell Usability
The lack of a common methodology which could be used to communicate the user-centered design process was one of the initial issues identified for the workshop to consider. It is clear that the scope, complexity and business organization for a project have an effect on not only the scale but also the approach of some user-centered design activities. This can mask an underlying consistency, but as we looked at some typical methodologies, a general pattern of tasks and general approach was clearly visible.
Based on this, we examined Cognetics LUCID (Logical User Centered Interactive Design) to see if it could serve as the basis for a common framework. This framework would define the general outline and goals for UCD activities, but would not dictate specific tools or techniques.
To be effective it would have to be scalable as useful for a small project as for a large one and would have to encompass the range of existing methodologies. We developed a taxonomy in which:
The importance of distinguishing between a shared framework and individual methodologies became clear as we looked at different methodologies which participants had used successfully. The variations between them were less a result of different philosophies than a practical response to projects of different types and scale. Some projects, for example, had a formal analysis period which ended in a user requirements document; others iterated between analysis and design more fluidly, testing conceptual prototypes to validate design ideas. In each case, the choices were effective for the context and produced good results.
It was important that the framework to be able to accommodate different organizational structures as well as different relationships with the users and choices of techniques. One of the strongest areas of agreement in the workshop, however, was that user-centered design is the one way to produce usable software, not simply one way among many. With that stake firmly in the ground, it was clear that the framework has a role in providing a definition of the approach and in acting as a mechanism for comparing different practices of user-centered design both within the UCD community in evangelizing our approach.
We are continuing to refine LUCID to incorporate the broadest definition of the UCD process. Information about LUCID is available at http://www.cognetics.com/lucid/.
A UPA 99 Workshop Report published in Common Ground, Vol 10 No 1,March 2000
The workshop leaders were Charlie Kreitzberg and Whitney Quesenbery, Cognetics Corporation. Our thanks to the participants for all of their ideas, energy and enthusiasm:
The URL for this article is: http://www.wqusability.com/articles/upa-workshop.htmlWhitney Quesenbery works on user experience and usability with a passion for clear communication. She is the co-author of Storytelling for User Experience from Rosenfeld Media. Before she was seduced by a little beige computer, Whitney was a theatrical lighting designer. The lessons from the theatre stay with her in creating user experiences. She can be reached at www.WQusability.com