Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

"Are You Talking to Me?"-Teaching User-Centered Design

Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

"Are You Talking to Me?"-Teaching User-Centered Design

Article excerpt

"Are you talkin' to me?"

Robert DiNiro as Travis Bickle in 'Taxi Driver' [c] 1976 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

This memorable scene from motion picture history has many meanings for me. It is at first the cry of frustration in living in a world of declining morals and corruption. But, at the same time, it is a plea from one isolated person who wants to sacrifice himself to make the world a better place. The subtlety of how DeNiro delivers this line is masterful. The accentuation of any one of the five words in the line "Are you talking to me?" changes the meaning of the sentence entirely.

I use this line of dialogue as a vehicle for class discussions of user-centered design. When emphasis is put on the first word as in "Are you talking to me?" it asks the designer if he or she is in fact focusing on the user and the experience instead of the product and its action. When phrased as "Are you talking to me?" it reminds the designer that creating user-centered design is an intentional process that must be driven by the designer from start to finish. It also reminds the designer that he or she has innate sensibilities and intuition that may enrich the process. When phrased as "Are you talking to me?" it suggests the need for having direct contact with users instead of relying on someone else's interpretation of their needs, and to test our design concepts with users throughout the process. "Are you talking to me?" reminds that designers need to have dialogue with users, to listen to them. Phrased as "Are you talking to me?" emphasizes the need to understand the user as much as possible and to appreciate the diversity and complexity of users, while trying to make every user feel as though the product was designed just for them. The nuances of delivery of this very simple sentence is an appropriate metaphor for user-centered design, which seems to be such an obvious and simple intent, but a very complex and variable process.

As the name suggests, user-centered design includes the user in the design process. The user participates in the definition of product criteria, the testing of several generations of design concepts, and, finally, the validation of the final design through testing. Of all design methodologies, the continuous participation in the design process by representative users is unique to user-centered design. A diagram of the process features the user in the center, with components of the process arranged around the circumference in no particular sequence, as I suggest that each be continued concurrently until it is producing no new information that will improve the design. My process includes the following components: User Profile, Task Analysis, Human Factors, Scenarios, User Behavior, Cultural Influences, Intuition/Experience, and most importantly, Testing. Without overstating the detail involved in each component of this process, allow me to offer an overview of each, with some suggestions of resources and teaching techniques that I have found effective.

Establishing a User Profile is certainly a key element in user-centered design. For many products, such as an automobile, a radio, or a toaster, the user group can be so large as to be unmanageable and so generic as to offer little guidance in the design of the product. I usually insist on a very narrowly defined user group, such as children aged 4-6 (Kindergarten age) or elderly people living alone. I avoid designating user groups that the students generally conform to, as they too often overwhelm the project with overly personal and irrelevant criteria.

Task Analysis is a process that describes what the user does with the product and why, in a step-by-step sequence from beginning to end. There are several good resources for how to develop and analyze a task analysis. NASA publishes an outline for its "Requirements Document" that provides an overview of the product (hardware and software), user profile, and tasks (major and minor). …

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