Posted by: bbannan | April 20, 2011

The Value of User-Centered Culture – Dave

Over the past few decades, both academics and practitioners have spent time focusing on the issue of organizational culture and whether a company’s culture effects its overall performance. More particularly, our recent readings describe the premise of creating a user-centered corporate culture, essentially redesigning the development process so that it is steeped in a clear understanding of the user’s needs (Kuniavsky, 2003). This is a continuously emerging approach to creating a specific culture amongst organizations, and one that should continue to see growth as long as user-centered design is being implemented in the design process.

Organizational culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by the organization’s leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various practices (Society for Human Resource Management, 2008). The purpose of fostering this culture is to ultimately shape the employee’s perceptions, behaviors, and understanding related to the company. This culture represents a critical factor in creating organizational value, as culture and talent have the ability to drive performance and shareholder value (Rothrock & Gregory, 2006).

I would like to focus on the concept of user-centered culture. What I like about this concept, is that it centers the culture of the organization more specifically on the end result: the needs of their consumers. I’m not implying that companies are ignoring the needs of their customers, but I can see how organizations would tend to focus their actual culture on the every day practices taking place in the office.

I could use my current situation as an example. I work for an organization that provides training and certification for HR Professionals. Obviously, the success of this company is completely driven by the effectiveness of the training they provide to their customers and its perceived value. This company’s culture upholds ideals such as excellence, integrity, quality and collaboration. These are all ideals that can be applied to the user experience, however I do not feel like that is currently taking place. Instead, these ideals are being applied to the employees and the quality of their production.  Does anyone else experience the same thing at their workplace? In the end, an organization’s culture will push us to simply work to please our bosses, rather than remembering who we are actually designing these products for.

This sounds like a great idea in concept, but there lies a great challenge within to actually shift people’s thinking within the organization and pushing them to place the perspective of the user ahead of their own (Kuniavsky, 2003). I think that attempting to change an organization’s culture represents a key issue in the corporate world today. With companies having decades of success being built upon a culture that has never changed, a shift in thinking regarding this culture would take a great deal of buy-in and research to prove the success of this potential change. This is where effective user research is critical, as it will help provide proof of the gaps between the capabilities of a product and the unsatisfied needs of the user (Kuniavsky, 2003). Having that information presented serves as a starting point to creating a user-centered organizational culture.


Kuniavsky, M. (2003).  Observing The User Experience.  San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Rothruck, C., Gregory, D. (2006) How Corporate Culture Affects Organizational Value. SHRM Whitepaper.



  1. Dave,

    Great post on user-centered culture! I can completely relate to your comment that an “organization’s culture will push us to simply work to please our bosses, rather than remembering who we are actually designing these products for.” I see this happening often in the contracting world for the federal government. Many times contractors will build a training product/program, for example, that is solely meant to please the client who hired them to do the work. The problem is, the end user is not the client who hired the contractor. The “end users” are those audiences who the training was suppose to be designed for and the client is just a middle man, making sure the project is completed. I have personally run into ethical issues where a client wants one result, which happens to be the worst possible design solution for the end user. As a contractor, you really don’t have much say, or the ability to be the voice for the learners/end users in the training products. This can be extremely frustrating and representative of ideals that are NOT being applied to the [end] user experience. Problem is, how do work towards changing that culture? As you mentioned, placing the perspective of the user ahead of your own is a great idea in concept, but can be a huge shift in thinking. I guess that is why change management is a career in and of itself for some organizations.

    Thanks for the resources. Hopefully they can shed some light on fostering more user-centered organizational cultures.


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