Social Research Methods Used in Moving the Traditional Usability Approach Towards a User-Centered Design Approach

Social Research Methods Used in Moving the Traditional Usability Approach Towards a User-Centered Design Approach

Horia D. Pitariu (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania), Daniela M. Andrei (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania) and Adriana M. Guran (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/jitwe.2009100103
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Abstract

The present chapter focuses on the idea of rethinking the concept of usability moving from the traditional view of usability expressed in the internal characteristics of the product towards usability understood as deriving from the quality of interactions between humans, their work and the web design product. Usability is not only an add-on or a final result in the design process but it is embedded as a main concern within the design process itself. Related to this perspective on usability, the authors discussed the design models which can support it and argued on the importance of using social research tools for a better understanding of the people and their needs starting with the very first stage of design. Further on the authors have provided a brief description of the most frequently used research methods in user needs analysis (interviews, focus groups and surveys) together with short guidelines in preparing and using these methods. The last part is dedicated to the illustration of user needs analysis taken from two of their research projects.
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Introduction

Usability has become a topic of great interest to researchers in the field of human computer interaction and interaction design due to an increasingly strong connection between usability and the overall success of a given product, be it an object, software or a website (Kuniavsky, 2003; Nielsen, 1993; Norman, 2002). Although researchers agree that usability does not, in itself guarantee the success of such a product (Kuniavsky, 2003; Norman, 2002), they also underline the fact that the lack of usability and a low quality user experience may contribute substantially to the failure of a product or design (Kuniavsky, 2003; Norman, 2002). Together with a substantially grown interest in usability, even though the subject did not represent the focus of design process in its starting years (Norman, 2002, Jordan, 2002) a certain trend in the conceptualization of usability can be observed as the traditionally accepted view of usability is moving towards an integrated perspective in which usability is not just an end goal or attribute of the final product but is also represented by the quality of user experience it enables. Moreover, the maturation of this concept is seen in terms of quality in software, quality in interaction and quality in value (Law, Hvannberg, & Cockton, 2008) a perspective which clearly passes over the traditional view of usability as a validating measure for the design product (Dumas & Redish, 1999).

Taking into account this shift in conceptualization, this chapter is organized around the idea of rethinking the concept of usability.This means moving from the traditional view of usability expressed in the internal characteristics of the product towards usability understood as deriving from the quality of interactions between humans, their work and the web design product (van Welie, 2001) or, in other words, from the better understanding of the user experience (Kuniavsky, 2003). More and more researchers argue that a user-centered approach or interactive design is the kind of approach that can support this conceptualization of usability (Benyon, Turner & Turner, 2005; Kuniavsky, 2003; van Welie, 2001; Brink, Gergle & Wood, 2002). As a result, usability becomes a permanent concern for researchers and designers. Moreover, designing for usability starts precisely from the first stage of web design: user needs analysis.

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