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Chapter One. Background > Human-Centered Design and User-Centered Design

1-3. Human-Centered Design and User-Centered Design

We have overcomplicated the software and forgotten the primary objective.

Jim and Sandra Sundfors

Not only interface designers but also managers in the electronics and computer industries understand the need for user- or customer-centered design. The first step in meeting this need is to get to know your users, but in commercial practice, getting to know the users usually consists of listening to task domain experts. Domain experts often know the parameters and details of the problem to be solved, but their formal expertise does not usually extend to questions of human psychology. Although users' task-related needs differ, your user population shares many common mental attributes. Before exploring the application or even working to accommodate differences among individuals, interface designers can minimize their work by exploiting what is common to all humans with regard to interface-design requirements. After that is accomplished, the interface designers can accommodate the differences across individuals and groups, and, finally, they can satisfy the varying requirements of their tasks. That crucial first step—making sure that the interface design accords with universal psychological facts—is customarily omitted in the design process. For the most part, interface designers have abdicated that responsibility to “industry standards.” All current popular interfaces have been built on underpinnings that flout what we know about human thought and behavior. For example, files with file names are a nearly universal feature in computer systems, yet we all have trouble remembering what file name we used to store a document six months ago. (A solution to this problem will be discussed in Section 5-3.) We want comprehensible software that demonstrates, by its impeccable behavior, that its designers were focused more on usability than on glitz.


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