Posted by: bbannan | April 18, 2012

Achieving User-Centered Design – Kate

Over the course of our Instructional Design and Development program, we’ve learned a lot about user-centered design and how to best design our teaching (or products) with the experience of the end-user in mind. There are many benefits to user-centered design for a corporation – efficiency (less product redesigning), reputation (positive experiences mean more word of mouth advertising), competitive advantage, user trust, and profits. (Kuniavsky, 2003).  In chapter 18, Kuniavsky discusses user-centered design in context of corporate culture. Hill and Jones, as cited in Lund, describe corporate culture as the “specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization.”  We, as instructional designers, can learn all we want about user-centered design and research but this knowledge does not improve our processes unless the corporate culture recognizes the value of and supports these techniques. Kuniavsky more eloquently states “Unless the benefits and techniques of user-centered design and research are ingrained in the processes, tools, and mind-set of the company, knowledge will do little to prevent problems” (2003, p. 505).

The concept of a user-centered development process means designers and engineers need to think not about how to make the product but to analyze how the product will be used and how to satisfy the needs of the users. As Kuniavsky states, the benefits of user-centered development are too often seen as inconsequential and not as vital parts of the design process and shifting this corporate culture towards user-centered design is often difficult. He recommends several ways to shift towards this design philosophy.

  • Introduce the change gradually to avoid major disruptions to how the organization currently works
  • Spend some time doing internal discovery on the current process (formal or ad-hoc) – this allows you to formulate your strategy better
  • Start small
  • Choose your method of attack: finding an executive to institute a top-down process change, float your ideas around informally for a period before introduction so people get used to the ideas before a formal introduction
  • Involve your stakeholders early – getting them in on the research is an easy way to sell them on the value and effectiveness of user-centered design
  • Show results with useful and convincing data and tailor your presentation to your audience

A real-life example of this corporate change was given by Arnold Lund, from Microsoft Corporation. In his article he describes his experience trying to shift corporate culture towards a more user-centered design as creating “a virtuous cycle of self-reinforcing activity whose impact grows as it operates and virally spreads across the organization.” The initial goal of his team at Microsoft was to set a vision and direction built on user needs and desires. His team began by defining a user-centered version of the waterfall process (planning, requirements, design, development, deployment, and maintenance) that was used by their IT department. The team overlaid user-centered design activities into each phase making the process start with understanding the users, putting this understanding into a design, testing, improving and repeating the cycle. They also implemented UX training in the organization. The training was designed to “enable teams without UX to do a better job in what they designed; would enable those taking the classes to partner with UX people more effectively; and would help UX people to scale their impact ad design direction beyond the simple number of UX people on a project.

Arnold also discusses leadership as an important factor into the culture shift towards user-centered design. The UX team should not be seen as a service team but rather take a leadership role—to  develop a vision, inspire, motivate, equip and educate. “These leadership opportunities become the new inspiring examples of the vision from which we harvest assets and best practices that we drive through the organization and the cycle begins again” (Lund, 2010).

I found Lund’s article a very interesting read and one that put another perspective on ideas for cultural change as it relates to user-centered design. I hope you find it interesting as well!


Kuniavsky, M. (2003). Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

Lund, A.M. (2010). Creating a user-centered development culture. Interactions 17(3): 34-38.





  1. I found this post compelling in the sense of how the user interface and usability culture is becoming central within a corporate structure. In essence if companies do not begin wrapping their businesses around user-centered design then they are destined to fail. This is central to an effective business model that you must remain true to your customers or your business will quickly find itself out of business. As an educator in the public school system I am fully aware of how unaware these systems are about user centered design and the importance of its role in teaching and learning. In essence, K-12 is in the business of ignoring our customers wants, needs, and dreams and instead we are pushing an outdated unwanted product on our customer base and we are failing them. Hopefully, someday the business of education will realize the error of our ways and move forward in keeping the student central to our design of the K-12 learning environment.

  2. Excellent post, Kate! I found it very interesting as well, and definitely related to the user-center design approach in the context of corporate culture that Kuniavsky discusses. I work at a large consulting firm, and think the points you mention in his design philosophy are spot on in the culture of an organization. Furthermore, I even believe this can apply to firms acting as consultants to government agencies, for instance, which I particularly thought of while reading this chapter. At my firm, I am an instructional designer working on a contract for a large government defense agency, and am in charge of developing courses, training materials, vodcasts, etc. It is crucial in all our work that, since we are working with an old, established agency, we “introduce the change gradually to avoid major disruptions to how the organization currently works” and “spend some time doing internal discovery on the current process (formal or ad-hoc)”. In order to accomplish these strategies, we first conduct a needs analysis of the course we are developing, reaching out to SMEs in the field who can direct us on the processes in place and needs of the end users, and conduct alpha and beta reviews before the course goes “live”. We also work very closely with the client to ensure that we are meeting her expectations and are not causing major disruptions. Thank you for contributing to this very fascinating topic! It will be interesting to see if large corporate organizations continue to move to a user-centered design approach, because I certainly think it is the way forward in the 21st century!

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