Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Designing Web Applications for Use

Designing for use rather than users ...

"Web-based applications, like all software systems, are obviously intended for people to use. Not so obvious is that users may not be the single most important factor in the application design equation. This is not an academic argument, particularly for the harried designer or development manager who must decide how and where to spend limited time and other resources. What should be the real focus of your design efforts?

The all-too-easy, politically correct, user-centered answer is that the whole of the user experience needs to be addressed, that the target audience must be understood in all its human richness, and that every aspect of the experience needs to be designed. But a growing number of forward thinkers in the field are recognizing that too much attention on users as people can lead designers to miss the main point, which is not the users themselves, but what they are doing and trying to do in the context of the larger activities in which they are involved. Designing for use rather than for users is a way to focus design more sharply.

Even the inventor of the term user-centered design has shifted gears. In a controversial essay that had the bloggers all a-twitter last year, usability guru Donald Norman argued that human-centered design could be harmful. “Focus upon humans,” he wrote, “detracts from support for the activities themselves.” The result can be cool technology that doesn’t work and complex applications that don’t help people do the stuff they need to do. He called for an activity-centered approach to design that makes the activities within which tools are used the primary concern of designers. By focusing on activities, designers are better able to deliver tools that effectively support users in real-world contexts."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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