Mar 04 2008

The overarching philosophy behind user-centered design

Published by ketan at 2:20 pm under Articles

By Zarla Ludin ~ Zarla writes about the connection IT needs to have with Human Factors…


Human Factors: the overarching philosophy behind user-centered design. User-centered design is an iterative problem solving process that demonstrates a user’s limitations, abilities, and typical uses of an interface. Usability research is essential for information technology because it examines these aspects of the user and then implements them in the design. Without a focus on the user, information technology has the potential of being completely inaccessible to the average person.


Usability research begins with knowing who the user is. Once this is accomplished, the user’s intended goals from using the interface can be determined. From these goals, a usability professional can then figure out exactly what the user needs of the interface in order for the user to achieve these goals. For example, architecture software tends to be used by only one user type: architects. They may be using the software to create plans of a building. Because their goal is to come up with a true-to-life architectural plan, graphics and images are probably going to be an important element of the software. Although this may seem like common sense, it is often overlooked by designers and developers. Having the Human Factor perspective, as well as the user’s prospective, is essential in creating a successful product.


When designing information technology-based user interfaces, it is important to at least keep in mind the user’s goals. However, several rules of thumb, known as heuristics, have been developed to assist designers in better understanding the basic needs of the user. For example, one general heuristic states that the user should always know where he/she is within a website by having a clear visual cue on the page. Heuristic standards can be as simple as how to design a website for all user types, or as detailed as being a list of standards for a very specific user type. Jakob Nielsen developed ten general standards for basic user interface design. This list has remained a staple in the user interface usability world for over a decade[1].


User-centered design is incredibly essential to the business world. Usability research helps businesses achieve their goals by giving their users what they want. Usability research is designed to simply give the user what they require, and although it does take much financial and resource support, can save a business from product failure, and more catastrophic losses. In the information technology world, user-centered design is often not included in the business model. Although IT practitioners understand the basic concepts of user-centered design, they often lack the tools and ability to implement this philosophy into their business model.


Clearly, user-centered design is an essential philosophy in the information technology world. Keeping the user in mind will help the designer understand the user’s goals, which can then be reflected in the product. Consistently, it is being proven that usability research has a reputable return on investment, and has helped many businesses succeed.



The author is currently in the HFID program, and is also Departmental Assistant in the DUC and the President of the HFIDO. She took interest in Human Facters after discovering it in a Nightline video covering IDEO that she watched for a collaborative art class.

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