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Exploring User-Centred Design in Practice: Some Caveats


This paper provides a nuanced perspective on the topic of user-centred design (UCD) in the human–computer interaction (HCI) field. After a brief outline of its emergence, we describe some of the central tenets of the approach, using the process model of Gulliksen et al. (Behav Inf Technol 22(6):397–409, 2003) as a well-documented exemplar. We then examine in more detail some of the difficulties one can encounter in performing user-centred design (UCD), illuminating these issues through vignettes from specific projects in which we have been involved. In this paper, we focus on issues that can arise in working with children and with people of differing mental abilities. Our argument is that, while a user-centred perspective is required at all times in the design team, the forms of participation of users in the design process needs to fit the context and can vary significantly from that presented as the prototypical UCD approach.

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  1. In later years, the term “Cooperative Design” has come into use (Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991) which, while preserving an interest in methods of user involvement, reduces somewhat the overly political agenda evident in the earlier collective resource model.

  2. Indeed, advocacy of designer-led activities for part of the design cycle, intertwined with joint user–designer experimentation, is persuasively argued in the paper by Agostini et al. (2000) on “user seduction”.

  3. While there are subtle distinctions between the usage of the terms “user involvement” and “user participation”, with the latter often connoting a more active engagement in the process, we will use the terms synonymously in this paper.


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Correspondence to Patrizia Marti.

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Marti, P., Bannon, L.J. Exploring User-Centred Design in Practice: Some Caveats. Know Techn Pol 22, 7–15 (2009).

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  • UCD
  • Users forms of participation
  • Children
  • Impaired people