User-Centered Design Stories

by Robert Barlow-Busch

In a few days, the UPA 2007 conference will kick off in Austin, Texas. It’s here that many people will get their first glimpse of User-Centered Design Stories: Real-World UCD Case Studies, a new book by Carol Righi and Janice James. Carol and Janice have assembled an impressive collection of real-world case studies from 22 different contributors, covering topics from promoting and establishing UCD practices to the nuts and bolts of research, evaluation, and design.

User-Centered Design Stories

Each chapter in the book reads like a story, complete with characters, dialogue, and in most cases a plot, which makes for an engaging and often entertaining read. Carol and Janice encouraged contributors to follow the Harvard Business School’s Case Method, “a detailed account of a real-life business situation, describing the dilemma of the ‘protagonist’ — a real person with a real job who is confronted with a real problem.” What’s nice about this method is that the stories include messy bits of reality, such as ambiguous requirements, shifting objectives, and constraints such as limited time, budget, or resources. These are not sanitized case studies that take place in an idyllic and therefore imaginary world; these are stories from the trenches, told by the people who experienced them. This makes User-Centered Design Stories valuable to both students and seasoned professionals who might be trying something new.

I contributed a chapter on personas and found it was actually quite fun to write in the Case Method format. To give you a taste, here’s the first paragraph from my chapter, titled “ClickDox: A Case Study in Personas”. I’ll occasionally share other snippets here on Chopsticker, so check back or grab the feed if you’re interested in personas.

“I can’t believe I did that!”

Joanne March worked hard to suppress a laugh as she watched Mike Rugatino grin sheepishly. After an hour of sitting in the dark and trying to be as quiet as possible, Mike had embarrassingly smacked his head against the observation window when he stood up abruptly for a better look at the focus group on the other side of the glass. Several participants turned at the sudden, drum-like noise from the mirror they’d forgotten about till then.

Carol and Janice invested a lot of time in this book, and I can only imagine the trouble of coordinating twenty-two contributors. It must have felt like herding cats, especially as production deadlines loomed. I suspect I’m personally responsible for slightly more than just 1/22 of their trouble, so… ahem. Congratulations, Carol and Janice! And thanks for adding this book to the UCD bibliography.

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