UCD does not discriminate when it comes to it's target. UCD can be applied to products and service. Because the overarching concept that one must understand is that it's truely an evaluation of the journey a user takes, UCD methodologies, best practices, and tips can all be applied to which ever the target.
Another name for UCD is "Human-centered Design". Human centered design processes for interactive systems, ISO 13407 (1999), states: "Human-centered design is an approach to interactive system development that focuses specifically on making systems usable. It is a multi-disciplinary activity." I have three thoughts on this definition of of the term "Human-centered Design".
First thought is that this is making a huge assumption that this is a "focus on making systems usable". Not quite sure that that is broad enough. I believe that when we refer to UCD or Human-centered design, we are referring to the design of touch-points to humans.
Second. I prefer to use the term UCD for one very important reason. In this world of computers, services, tools and products, the tech industry often forgets that it's not ALWAYS about the humans. Human-centered design can not apply to a product that better streamlines the milking process for cows. It cannot design a fuzzy jacket that fits all large, medium and small dogs. We can't rely on Human-centered design alone to improve the way a bird feeder keeps out the squirrels. The user can come in all shapes and sizes.
My last thought is that I completely agree that in order for UCD to be practiced successfully, one must have a variety of skills. UCD is definitely a multi-disciplinary activity. Visual design, architectural design, business prowess, research skills, prototyping, sketching, and public speaking are just some of those skills.
High Level Process
The User Centered Design process can look many different ways.
An article from uxmatters.com describes 3 steps: 1) Discovery, 2) Design, 3) Development. Where Discovery is a research phase, Design is obviously a design phase where the knowledge gleaned through the research phase is put into effect in the effort of coming up with a design, and lastly is the Development phase. The Development phase (as it related to the uxer) is really described as being present to provide development Support.
In Alan Cooper's book titled Goal Directed Design, he describes the process as having 6 different phases: 1) Research, 2) Modeling, 3) Requirements, 4) Framework, 5) Refinement, and 6) Support. Steps 1, 2, and 3 are pretty much the same parts as described in the uxmatters article for the Discover phase. Step 4 and 5 track to the Design phase, and step 6 is again equal to development support.
In the book titled Smashing UX Design by Jesmond Allen and James Chudley I found what was even closer to what I believe to be proper UX Design. It described the steps as being 1) Research, 2) Design and then 3) Research again. Again, like before, they all generally described a time to research, a time to design, and then a time to provide development support.
Out of the three though, it seemed that they didn't directly match up with my own personal experience on project. My projects have often consisted of a process that looked more like this...
- A research phase (getting the basics)
- A design phase (design the basics)
- Another research phase (usability testing)
- Another redesign phase (adjustment of the design based on findings)
- A third research phase (Anything else need fixed?)
- A third redesign phase (slight modifications and fine tuning)
- Passed to development. Dev may say, "Can't do THIS thing". Development Support may consist of...
- A research phase (figure alternate appropriate methods)
- A design phase (redesign)
- A research phase (usability test solution)
- A slight redesign phase and pass back to dev.
It is truly dependent on the project's needs. I assume that the reason why different people like to portray the process as having 3 steps is because it's easier to sell. So if that's the case, then here are the three steps that make up UCD, in no particular order, and with no particular cap on how many times they may appear in your particular project effort.
If you are interested in learning more about UCD or are just getting started in this realm of education, I recommend that you check out some of the references below...
- User Experience Reading List: Getting Started in User Experience, eeklipzz, HCI, UX, and UI Design Tips, Tricks, Tools, Principles and Methodologies
- User-centered design, Wikipedia
- Notes on User Centered Design Process (UCD), W3C Web Accessibility Initiative
- Becoming a Usability Professional, NN/g Nielsen Norman Group
- Benefits of User-Centered Design, Usability.gov
- Key principles of user centered design, Usabilitynet.org