Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Understanding Design for Dynamic and Diverse Use Situations

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Understanding Design for Dynamic and Diverse Use Situations

Article excerpt


When designing products for many different use situations, designers need insight into the variations between these situations and the differing requirements each situation imposes on a design. For example, when designing a compact photo camera, designers could observe cameras being used by students while taking pictures of themselves at a party or by skiers taking pictures of mountains in the cold. In the first situation, the camera needs to provide support in getting everyone in the picture. In the second situation, the camera needs to be controllable while wearing gloves and to include a display that allows reading in bright sunlight. A compact camera will be used in many different situations, which makes it very difficult to predict and analyse all these situations and integrate this knowledge into the design process.

This research explores the relationship between varying use situations and usability, and how designers deal or could deal with this relationship in their design process. Usability has long been recognized as an important design consideration. Great frustration arises when basic products such as doors, taps and light switches turn out not to be simple at all (Norman, 1998). Apart from preventing user frustration, usability has become established as an important issue with respect to the marketing and sale of products and is therefore of commercial value. For example, den Ouden (2006) showed that product returns are half of the time caused by non-technical failures that occur when a product does not satisfy customers' expectations, often as a result of usability problems. As usability is about customer satisfaction, in the long run it affects repurchase intent and cross purchasing, product returns, demand on customer support and brand perception (van Kuijk, 2010).

The ISO 9241-11 (1998) standard provides guidance on the specification and evaluation of the usability of a product. It defines usability as "the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use" (p. 2). The word 'specified' in this definition can lead to the interpretation that usability can only be defined for a fixed use situation, for example, the usability of a compact camera for skiers wanting to take a picture of the mountains. Since industrially manufactured products are never used in one specific use situation, the usability of products will necessarily vary. Many researchers acknowledge the dependence of usability on its use situation and the variety of these situations. For example, Nielsen (1993) states that a designer needs to consider the entire spectrum of intended users and ensure that an interface is usable for as many users as possible. Maguire (2001) argues that it is incorrect to describe a product as ergonomic or usable without also describing the context of use, in other words, for whom the product is designed, what it will be used for and where it will be used. The dependency of usability on varying use situations also counts for 'user experience'. For example, Buchenau and Suri (2000) mention that:

The experience of even simple artefacts does not exist in a vacuum but, rather, in dynamic relationship with other people, places and objects. Additionally, the quality of people's experience changes over time as it is influenced by variations in these multiple contextual factors. (p. 424)

From the above, it can be concluded that users, goals and contexts often vary, and these varying use situations lead to variable levels of usability as well as user experience for certain products.

Dealing with the myriad of situations in which products are used is a difficult aspect of the design process. Norman (1986) explains this issue in commenting:

Designing a system that matches the user's needs confronts the designer with a large number of issues. Not only do users differ in their knowledge, skills, and needs, but for even a single user the requirements for one stage of activity can conflict with the requirements for another. …

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