A Definition of User Centred Design

I have recently run across a document by the Netherlands national research funding body SenterNovem which provides an interesting definition of “user centred design”. I pasted a copy of the definition below. I think that it differs somewhat to our own HCDI approach. What do people think of the definition ?

  Joseph Giacomin

   User centred design

  1. characterisation of design process

  In user centred design processes, the key is to identify exact user demand. Thanks to new technology, it is now possible to make products which the end-users cannot even imagine. Recent examples are mobile communication and internet use, where the present real-life market penetration and market growth were not even broadly predicted by any traditional marketing instrument. The key problem with these products and product-service combinations is that potential users/markets are hardly in a position to indicate the added value of a future product, when they have no idea what that product or service will be able to do for them.

  In this area, product development often goes in short cycles and is strongly iterative. Frequently, the only way for manufacturers to get a picture of (future) consumer wishes is to put a pilot product on the market and analyse the reactions. During the design process, therefore, the product specification (what it should look like and what is should do) are to some extent unknown. The job is to create those specifications. It is clear how the device is to function (the technology is available from various suppliers), but unclear what it is to do:

  – potential clients are unable to say whether they need the product or how they will use it: after all, they don’t know what will be possible and what the added value of the product might be for them. Because of the huge number of technological possibilities, traditional marketing techniques no longer work; with traditional “technology push”, there is a serious risk of launching the wrong product for the wrong target group

  – it is impossible to say what business model is appropriate to a product when even the producer cannot say what clients will eventually do with it

  – nobody can tell how the product will adapt itself to the user and vice versa, especially if the user – as a non-specialist – is ignorant of the structure of the product.

  2. generic methods

  In theme 1, the aim is to develop generic methods to obtain high-level design information via extremely short design-manufacture-use cycles. Aspects of these methods are scenario studies at the level of business models, the development of user models, the use of pilot products with early testing and early prototyping. This is mass customization and beyond!

  These methods will enable companies to track user experience more closely and to carry out simulations of the way future markets may behave. The results will give them insights into the position they should adopt both in relation to client groups and in relation to other businesses in the value chain. The design process will be highly exploratory and iterative, with market results, client studies or field testing providing immediate feedback to influence the next version of the product:

  3. scope of the design methodology

  The generic design methodology will focus both on the physical device as such (e.g. a mobile phone) and on the combination of the device and the services which can be provided through it (e.g. a route navigation system with traffic information service).

  4. examples of research questions

  Examples of relevant research questions (provided purely for illustrative purposes) are:

  – can methods be designed which can be used in the very early stages of the design process to provide insight into client wishes/requirements for future products, even if those products (or the services they will provide) do not yet exist ?

  – is it possible to involve clients in a realistic way at an early stage in the design process, so that they can help define potential specifications of future products?

  – is it possible to design a structure enabling companies (or networks of companies) to experiment with extremely short design-manufacture-use cycles?

  – can methods be designed to enable clients and producers to work together to find out what the client may be able to do with a concept that has not yet been designed and what added value that potential concept may have for him?


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