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User Centered Design: The Integrated Approach

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Learn why the Integrated UCD approach is unique and the key benefits of its six core principles.
This chapter is from the book


Integrated UCD designs ease of use into the total customer experience with products and systems. It involves two fundamental elements: multidisciplinary teamwork and a set of specialized methods of acquiring user input and converting it into design.

UCD involves design specialists from several disciplines, such as marketing, human-computer interaction, visual/industrial design, user assistance design, technology architecture engineering, service/support, and user research (often called human factors engineering). It ensures that a disciplined, integrated, customer-based process is used throughout the design and development of offerings and solutions. This process includes the following types of activities:

  • Understanding users' activities, which provide an understanding of the customers, their environment, the tasks they currently perform, and the tasks they anticipate performing in the future;

  • Designing and evaluating design activities, which facilitate the conceptual and detailed design of the offering and evaluate the design iteratively with users;

  • Assessing competitiveness activities, which assess the offering design relative to the prime competitor's offering design.

This chapter introduces the central concepts of UCD, describes the central principles of UCD, and provides an overview of UCD methods and techniques.

What's in a Name?

The user in UCD refers to the person who will be using the product or system being built. Some people argue for alternatives to this designation, including customer, learner, or just human. In fact, a particular term appears to be in "style" for a year or two until a new one comes into vogue among practitioners. Although these changes in vocabulary may suit the needs of practitioners or others for whom these nuances are important, it is often confusing to nonpractitioners who consequently no longer recognize the approach. We tend to use the terms user and customer interchangeably. The centered part of UCD refers to the fact that aspects of UCD revolve around one center, the user. The design in UCD refers to the creation of the total customer experience. The D part of UCD can also stand for discovery, defini-tion, development, and delivery.

How Is Our Integrated Approach to UCD Unique?

Because the term UCD has been used to describe a generic approach to product development, many flavors of UCD exist in the industry. Most current versions of UCD, including the one described in this book, have their origins in the seminal work of Norman and Draper (1986). This book introduced the basic terminology and some of the central ideas of this approach to product development. Building on this foundation, a number of unique enhancements were built into our version of UCD to make it integrated, scalable, and fast. Integrated UCD is unique among design approaches in several important ways:

  • Integrated UCD deals with the design of the total customer experience from the first time a potential customer sees an ad about a product or service through the time he or she would like to upgrade to a new version. The focus of other versions of UCD is typically much more limited. They only focus on the graphical user interface itself, in the case of software, or such things as the computer keyboard, in the case of hardware. To achieve the focus on the total customer experience, integrated UCD uses a multidisciplinary team of diverse skills to design everything the customer sees, hears, and touches (see Figure 2.1).

    Figure 2.1Figure 2.1 The total customer experience. (Courtesy of IBM.)

  • Integrated UCD uses a variety of techniques from heavy-duty to lightweight and specifies when each is required. Not all projects are the same; therefore, UCD doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution. A careful study of the variation in projects has yielded a set of project profiles and the methods and techniques appropriate to each. In this book, we incorporated both industry-standard techniques and new techniques that we developed ourselves, specifying where each is appropriate.

  • The process focuses on affective as well as cognitive and behavioral aspects of a customer's interaction with an offering. In other words, it ensures that customers are delighted with an offering, beyond not experiencing major problems using it.

  • Measurements taken throughout the project are a key element of integrated UCD. Many industry practitioners believe that ease of use and related attributes cannot be measured or managed. We disagree. We have developed an extensive set of measurements that are taken throughout a project to help identify problems and make midcourse corrections. These provide a powerful means for managing projects so that they will satisfy customers.

  • Integrated UCD has been optimized with state-of-the-art tools and technologies. In many cases, UCD activities as practiced elsewhere in the industry are time consuming and labor intensive. Integrated UCD, on the other hand, includes a set of tools that turbocharge our methods and techniques. Activities that used to take days and weeks now take a few minutes.

  • Many companies know that they need to use a process like integrated UCD, but they don't know how to get started. We've developed a package for getting started including introductory presentations, development team education classes, executive education workshops, and consulting services to get a project started quickly.

  • Integrated UCD has benefited greatly from other published works (Hamel and Prahalad, 1989; Norman and Draper, 1986; Wiklund, 1994) and from our collective experience carrying out integrated UCD and other versions of UCD (Vredenburg, 2001). Integrated UCD also was improved drawing from the work of industry peers in the American Computer Machinery Special Interest Group for Computer Human Interaction (SIGCHI), the Usability Professionals' Association (UPA), and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) conferences, as well as standards organizations such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Industry Usability Workshop.

  • Finally, we have chosen the term integrated to distinguish our approach from the more generic approaches to UCD. Our approach emphasizes integration on several fronts:

    • Process—the approach has a logical sequence that relies on methods that fit together to generate data and design solutions. Further, it is integrated into an overall development process.

    • Team—the approach relies on a tightly knit group of multidisci-plinary professionals.

    • Product—UCD produces an integrated total customer experience.

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