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A Cry For Looking To Other Methods For User Centered Design

This guest post is written by our friend Tristan Weevers.

In 2004 and in 2005, Neville Stanton wrote two books with 200 methods and tools for Human Factors. In 2010, Chauncey Wilson added another 100 specific for user-centred design (UCD). In addition to books like these, people started to collect methods online. I found a lot of them, some better than others. However, it seems that no one really uses these collections, or even knows about them.

With the rapid development of the UCD field (in which digital tools like Usabilla have been developed) added up to these three books, we currently might have about 400 methods to our disposal. However, many practitioners told me that they use about four to six methods, tools and/or techniques in their UCD projects (which I all refer to as methods in this article). They tailor them to match the needs of various projects that they’re involved in. However, some practitioners said that they don’t always feel confident with the way they used a method. Especially when the method was adjusted so much that it didn’t even look like the original thing.

A gap?

Why is this interesting? First of all, the method that is used to conduct user research influences the type of outcomes the research yields. Second, prescribing methods may lead to a situation where a team does not apply the right method, which can easily lead to bad design decisions. In addition, using an appropriate method inappropriately could be a death sentence for your project as well.

Most methods are developed in academics, where the most used route for dissemination is via conferences and papers. Academics read or hear from other academics and might teach that to their students, who eventually go to practice. This process can take about five years, by which the landscape of the field has already entirely changed. So, it certainly wouldn’t hurt us if we, practitioners, take a look at them ourselves, but why aren’t we? I studied this and I found out that many methods hardly reach practice because:

  1. There is an increased pressure on the development activities in projects, leaving little to no time to search for and select an appropriate (new) method;
  2. Some practitioners think that they’re doing just fine with the six they already use;
  3. Many methods disappear in papers, articles, theses and personal websites. You either have to stumble upon them or already know their names;
  4. The information about methods is either too extensive or only gives a short introduction;
  5. Content is often text-only and lacks a practitioner-oriented approach by not including guidelines for optimization and execution;
  6. Most (online) collections were created within a project. When the project ended (or funding, for that matter), the information froze. The website and its content got outdated.

My cry

There is a huge potential benefit to know about a broader set of methods. This is especially the case when you want to know more specific things like how attracted users are to your product in comparison to the ones of your competitors. In this example, cultural probes could be an interesting way to go, but an AttrakDiff questionnaire might give much faster and accurate results. However, you’ll never use that method because you haven’t heard of it (or have you?)

I believe that the current lack of dissemination hinders the development of better products and therefore the development of the field. So why don’t you figure out which other methods you could use in your next project? For starters, take a little time to check out these nine practical collections to find a method that suits your project. Some of these online collections provide selection possibilities that you can already use in your search for a better method:

  • Usability Planner A more sophisticated algorithm that takes into account resources and project phases when calculating the best methods for you;
  • UsabilityNet Methods Table uses checkboxes for limited time/resources, direct user access and skills/expertise for selecting between 35 methods;
  • The Methods Lab provides an overview of input (budget, time, staffing and expertise) and output for each of the 16 methods;
  • UCD-Methods wiki and a selection poster (nice printout for on your wall!) with a very detailed categorization of 42 methods.

I encourage you to use multiple sources in your search, as the level of selection and detail varies a lot among the current online collections. In the meantime, I will try to make selecting one of the 400 methods a little easier for you. I started a company that makes it possible to filter all methods based on your knowledge about a situation, like What product are you creating? and What do you want to achieve? Check out the development of the project at www.ucdtoolbox.com and join our LinkedIN discussion group to discuss how we could help you in finding a better method.


One comment

  1. jordisan

    Let me tell you about an alternative approach:

    http://ucdmanager.net

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