UCD Blog Post 3: Problems Encountered when Trying to Institutionalize User Centered Design and UX in Organizations

There are many problems encountered when trying to institutionalize user centered design (UCD) or user experience (UX) related work in organizations. My PhD was called “Usability, who cares? Establishing user centered design in organizations” (I defended in 2010) was related to this topic. It describes our work with the institutionalizing of UCD and UX work in eight different organizations. Some of the things I present in the thesis that makes it difficult to work with UX and UCD are:

User representatives as Adding Extra Value:

  • Working with user representatives is considered optional, hence indicating a perspective on systems development where user participation is not seen as a central part, but as something that adds extra value
  • One of the most prevalent perspectives affecting this choice is time and efficiency. A consequence of the efficiency perspective is seen in the choice of users for the role of user representatives. Here individuals who are used to work in systems development projects, and who know the methods and language used are preferred as representatives, in the interests of efficiency. Often the same people participate in different development projects, and in interviews, some individuals have described that they have not worked with case handling in years. Hence, civil servants become “IT workers” to the extent that this is considered a career path in the organisations. Preferably, the user representatives should also be skilled domain experts, as well as skilled users of the computer systems.

“You pick your dream team. You agree on a theoretical level that it is important to pick new people from the organisation, but when it comes to practice it is difficult.”

Work is Seen and Understood in Terms of Simple Steps and Procedures

  • The studies revealed that there is a gap between the users’ work and the discourse in the systems development. In the systems development projects, the civil servants’ work is frequently discussed in terms of simple steps and operations, that may be predefined and automated in accordance with clearly defined rules and regulations.
  • In complex cases where the computer fails to generate a decision and where human” judgement is required; it was seen as a problem that civil servants have to make decisions. These “human” decisions were seen as subjective and open to interpretations – which is the reason why the computer fails to make them in the first place – and the civil servants making the decisions were seen as incompetent

Usability is a Fuzzy concept

  • Several informants from the IT departments described usability as a vague and unclear concept.

“Usability is really difficult to talk about since it means one thing to me and something completely different to someone else.”

  • Usability experts are few and they felt that they seldom had enough time to do all the activities required. Several of the informants believed that this was due to lack of understanding of what usability is and what usability experts do, as this usability expert describes:
  • In one of the organisations, the internal procurer and the project manager of their sub-project in Satsa Friskt maintain that usability and UCSD are possible to address without any usability experts. Specifically, they estimated that the project would achieve an approximate 80% success if conducted by people without any previous usability experience or specialist knowledge in the field. This indicates a perspective on usability as common sense, as something that is easily incorporated in systems development. Few people in the organisations understand how much work needs to be done in their organisation to incorporate the ideas of usability, or as the project managers of another subproject said:

“This project just gets bigger and bigger [deep sigh]! “


Usability and UX are Difficult to Measure

  • Measurement of usability and user experience is a method much sought after in order to introduce and motivate user-centred design activities. Our research group developed a web based usability index method at CSN that resulted in measurements of usability and UX on three different occasions. During a trial period the questionnaire gradually improved in which questions were clarified and some even deleted.