Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Human-Centered vs. User-Centered Approaches to Information System Design

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Human-Centered vs. User-Centered Approaches to Information System Design

Article excerpt


Despite continuing debates about the "user" emphasis in HCI, new design approaches, such as interaction design, continue to focus on humans as technology users, constraining the human-centeredness of design outcomes. This paper argues that the difference between "user" focus and a human-centered focus lies in the way in which technology is designed. The emphasis on problem closure that is embedded in current approaches to designing information systems (IS) precludes an examination of those issues central to human-centered design.

The paper reviews recent approaches to user-centered IS design and concludes that these methods are targeted at the closure of technology-centered problems, rather than the investigation of suitable changes to a system of human-activity supported by technology. A dual-cycle model of human-centered design is presented, that balances systemic inquiry methods with human-centered implementation methods. The paper concludes with a suggestion that IS design should be viewed as a dialectic between organizational problem inquiry and the implementation of business process change and technical solutions.


By focusing on usability, the IS literature too often overlooks the social context of use. Bjorn-Andersen (1988) criticized the narrow definition of human-computer interaction (HCI) in the literature, with the words: "it is essential that we see our field of investigation in a broader context. A 'human' is much more than eye and finger movements". So how do we design for human-centeredness? Gill (1991) defines human-centeredness as "a new technological tradition which places human need, skill, creativity and potentiality at the center of the activities of technological systems." The human-centered approach to the design of technology arose as a reaction to perceptions that traditional approaches to technology design deskill technology users and impoverish the quality of working life (Gill, 1991; Scarbrough and Corbett, 1991). While many of the issues of human-centeredness have been adopted by the IS and HCI literature, many have been considered to lie outside the boundaries of "user" interactions with computers. This is because of a focus on technology and how humans interact with technology, rather than questioning how and why technology may be of service in supporting human work. Despite continuing debates about a focus on human actors as "users" of technology, this issue has not gone away and continues to constrain new, "user-centered" approaches to IS design, such as agile software development (Beck, 1999; Fowler and Highsmith, 2001; Highsmith, 2000) and interaction design (Cooper, 1999; Preece, Rogers and Sharp, 2002; Winograd, 1994). These constraints sit poorly with the need to design systems that support emerging knowledge processes (Markus, Majchrzak and Gasser, 2002) and result in systems that do not support the processes required to support organizational work (Butler and Fitzgerald, 2001; Lehaney, Clarke, Kimberlee and Spencer-Matthews, 1999).

This paper is structured as follows. The next section provides a discussion of the tenets of human-centered design and why this is not catered for in the mutual adaptation that is theorized to take place between organization and technology. Then we examine what we know about the nature of IS design processes, that makes human-centeredness problematic. Following this, the paper critiques some recent developments in IS design, from the perspective of human-centeredness:

* Participatory design is discussed as an alternative to the traditional, technology-centered system development life-cycle that resulted from an emphasis on human-computer interaction (HCI).

* Interaction design, a development of HCI that considers work processes is examined.

* Use-cases as part of a Unified Modeling Language (UML) approach are discussed, as a recent advancement for modeling business processes and user-interactions with the intended information system. …

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