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Multidisciplinary Design and User Feedback

Two fundamental elements of a successful implementation of UCD are mul-tidisciplinary design and user feedback.

Multidisciplinary Design Specialists

UCD requires that specialists from several disciplines create the total customer experience. These roles can be organized into a conceptual team structure, which includes individuals who design, those who are architects, those who provide information, and those who lead. (See Figure 2.14.) The work of all these individuals is informed by guidelines, processes, and tools, as well as by customer input and user evaluation. Even though all these categories of roles come together and synergistically create the total customer experience, it is important to point out the differences in the contributions made by each.

Figure 2.14Figure 2.14 The UCD team model. (Courtesy of IBM.)

The customer directly experiences the results of design. Architecture specifies a framework, flow, or assembly that is the context for design. Design and architecture both rely heavily on a variety of information, including specification of the target market, customer audience, requirements, user tasks, and competitor strengths and weaknesses, all of which are gathered via customer input. The design is then evaluated by users. Leadership is required to set the vision and direction for the project in terms of achieving a particular total customer experience, to manage the deliverables and plans, and to lead the multidisciplinary team. Finally, the work of the individuals on the team is influenced by guidelines, processes, and tools to ensure that a consistent design signature exists across products, that activities are carried out according to best practices, and that tools appropriate to the task are used.


  • All key skills must be represented on a UCD team.

  • Team members must be able to understand one another, but not duplicate the skills of one another.

  • Proximity is a powerful design aid.

Multidisciplinary teamwork was used on a recent project to develop an intranet site for a well-known automobile manufacturer. The team consisted of a network architect, a programming architect, a human-computer interaction designer, a visual designer, a Java programmer, a Lotus Domino programmer, and a project manager. All the skills needed to design the site were represented on this team. Team members overlapped in their expertise enough to communicate and work together effectively; however, each team member had a unique set of skills. Most of the team sat together in a single large cubicle. The quarters were tight, but the effect was extremely positive. Everyone was always aware of what everyone else was doing.

Communication was ongoing and immediate. The design benefited from the input of all key players.

Although specific terminology for the roles on a UCD team might differ from company to company, specification of roles, responsibilities, and skills should address the various elements of this conceptual structure. The roles will be also discussed in the context of these conceptual categories.

Table 2.2 shows some of the terms commonly used to refer to the various roles on a UCD team.

TABLE 2.2 UCD Team member roles and titles.

UCD Role


User experience design lead

Program manager, design lead, creative integrator, creative lead, creative director, ease of use lead, user experience design lead

Marketing specialist

Product manager, marketing, packaging engineer

Visual/industrial designer

Industrial design, mechanical design, graphics designer, media designer, artist, visual interface architect, mechanical engineer, director

Human-computer interaction designer

User interaction design, user interface design, interaction designer, designer, product designer, HCI designer, HCI specialist, information architect

User assistance architect

User communication design, user assistance designer, user assistance architect, writer, information designer

Technology architect

Programmer, technologist, architect, software designer, UI programmer

Service and support specialist

User support specialist, service planner, service and support engineer

User research specialist

Usability specialist, usability engineer, human factors engineer, user experience specialist, user experience architect, user research specialist, user feedback specialist

Internationalization/terminology specialist

Localization designer

UCD project lead

Program manager, project manager, product manager

In addition to the design team members, UCD is enabled by domain experts: specialists who are familiar with the content matter addressed by the product. In some cases, many of the team members may have domain-specific knowledge. In other cases, however, domain experts may need to be recruited to advise the team.

Design. Although a number of individuals and disciplines contribute to design, the actual composition and rendering of the deliverable that customers will see, hear, and touch is done by the visual/industrial designer and the human-computer interaction designer. These specialists create the experience for the customer based on contributions from the other disciplines. The visual design includes the marketing materials, packaging, books, and installation, as well as the actual product user interface. In the case of software, the term visual designer is usually used, whereas in hardware, the term industrial designer is typically used. As shown in Table 2.2, other terms for this role include media designer, artist, and graphics designer. The human-computer interaction designer translates user tasks and task flow into an interaction design that satisfies user needs and wants while also providing the most effi-cient method of carrying out users' tasks.

Architecture. The design of the total customer experience must be based on solid architecture. It is generally acknowledged that technology architecture is required, but it is often not realized that user assistance architecture is also critical as well. In the same vein, the technology architect needs to ensure that the computer system itself will be able to carry out the requirements of the design, and the user assistance architect needs to structure the information provided with the product to ensure that users will be able to learn to use the product and be able to get help using it in the most desirable way.

Information. A number of roles are in place primarily to provide information to the design and architecture effort. Marketing specialists provide information regarding the target market, user audience, primary competitor, ease of use market objectives and messages, and channel and packaging requirements. Relevant market intelligence and other market research findings are also the responsibility of the marketing specialist. Customer service and support specialists provide information to the team and communicate requirements back to the service and support team. Internationalization and terminology specialists also provide information to the team. The user research specialist also has an information-providing role, planning, scheduling, conducting, analyzing, and interpreting the user feedback activities.

Leadership. UCD team leadership is critically important. The UCD project lead provides leadership in terms of maintaining schedules, establishing dependencies, and keeping the project on track. The user experience design lead has the vision for the project, leads the multidisciplinary design team, and is the conscience of the team.

Team Member Responsibilities and Skills.

Responsibilities and skills associated with each of the UCD team member roles are outlined in Table 2.3. It is useful to remember that these are roles, rather than individuals. It would be a luxury for a team to have a one-to-one correspondence of role-to-person. However, in most cases, organizations do not have that many specialists that can be assigned to any single product team. An organization is more likely to have multiple roles assigned to a given team member. For example, the HCI designer may also need to perform the duties of user research specialist. Another example is for the UCD project lead to also be the user experience design lead. In this way, UCD can be scaled to meet the needs of a smaller project.

TABLE 2.3 UCD team responsibilities and skills.




UCD project lead

Has overall responsibility for UCD deliverables and plans as well as the integration of them into the development plan

Project management, UCD process, development process

User experience design lead

Has responsibility for the total customer experience design of the project

Vision, leadership, technical expertise, project and people management, facilitation

Visual designer

Has responsibility for the overall appearance, layout, balance of the software offering including the consistent visual signature of the advertising, packaging, and product design

Art, design, model/prototype building, creativity, teamwork

Industrial designer

Has responsibility for the overall appearance, layout, balance of the hardware offering including the consistent visual signature of the advertising, packaging, and product design

Art, design, model building, creativity, teamwork

   HCI designer

 Responsible for specifying the task flow, interaction design, and division of tasks to be carried out by the user and by the computer

Human-computer interaction, conceptual modeling, information synthesis

User assistance architect

Has responsibility to specify the appropriate user assistance mechanisms for the offering

Information architecture, teamwork

Technology architect

Has responsibility for specifying the underlying technology required to implement the desired total customer experience

Technical skill in relevant domain, development process, programming and/or engineering teamwork

   Marketing specialist

Specifies the target market, use raudience, key competitor, market ease of use objectives, and ease of use messages as well as the channel, packaging, and terms and condition requirements

 Marketing, market intelligence, market trends, synthesis of information, teamwork

   Service and support specialist

Specifies the service and support that should be delivered with the offering

technologies and options

   Internationalization and terminology specialist

Is responsible for ensuring that the offering appropriately addresses the needs of the international audience within the target market and for specifying the appropriate terminology to be used in the offering

Internationalization and localization specialization, terminology, languages, HL enablement

   User research specialist

Has responsibility for the design, analysis, and interpretation of UCD studies carried out on the project including the articulation of recommendations coming from this applied research

 Usability engineering, technical aptitude, UCD methods

User Feedback Methods

UCD typically involves a number of methods that require a range of low to high resource requirements, with many of the low-resource methods involving Internet-based surveys and remote user collaboration. The choice of which methods to use can vary widely across projects. However, UCD is best illustrated if we take one path through the various steps involved. The path described here is characterized by a medium level of required resource.

The cycle starts with an understanding of the customer audience the offering is targeted at and proceeds to an assessment of the competitor's design. It is followed first by a high-level design of the offering and an evaluation of it, and then a lower-level iterative design with user evaluation and validation. Early-ship user feedback and a head-to-head hands-on comparison test complete the multidisciplinary design of the total customer experience. (See Figure 2.15.)

Figure 2.15Figure 2.15 An illustration of the key components of the UCD process. (Courtesy of IBM.)

Each of the activities in the UCD cycle is described in more detail in Chapter 4.

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