Week 2: User-centred design

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Required reading

Norman, D. 2002. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books (2nd Ed.) chapter 7.

Krug, S. 2000. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Indianapolis, Indiana, USA: Circle.com Library,New Riders Publishing. Chapter 9.

Buxton, W. 2007. Sketching User Experiences. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman pp. 77-115.



You will have seen from the set reading for this session that it's quite common for ordinary things to not work very well and that this is because they have not been designed with users in mind. The same is of course true about Web sites. You also saw how, in the previous session, there is no such thing as an average person, so it's no use trying to design for the average. As designers, we actually have to think carefully about who our users are going to be and then take the trouble to find out useful things about them. What are their interests and how will our site help them? How do they think? How do they search for information?, What information do they want? What are they going to do with it? This approach to design is called "User-centred" to distinguish it from other approaches which tend to focus on the thing to be designed rather than the users of that thing.

Human Behaviour © Getty Images.Source: [1]


In this activity you will be working in a small team to design a Web site for a specific target group, and then test it. The purpose of testing is not find out how well/badly you did, but rather to help you to understand your target users better and to help you come up with new ideas that you can try out again on users. With each iteration your understanding of the requirements improves and your ideas get better.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this session you should be able to:

Explain why testing early and often is good design practice.

Explain the differences betwen sketches and prototypes with reference to their role in the design cycle.

Create and test Web site designs using low cost paper based models.


This hands-on activity provides practical guidance on how to resolve web design issues quickly using paper models. You will be introduced to the STAR methodology (Stage, Types, Aims, Resources) for determining an appropriate build/test strategy and then guided through a series of steps to produce and test a paper based micro Website design. Working in groups, your tasks are to:

Define some typical site users, by creating user profiles with the aid of a prompt sheet.

Determine what the site is for and therefore its intended outcomes when users interact with it, using a schema of possible outcomes based on Laurillard (2007).

Develop a set of user activities designed to achieve these outcomes and describe the site functionality they require.

Convert your activity descriptions into paper-based micro Web site design [site map and page layouts].

Develop a set of questions and activities for users to carry out, to test the performance of your site design.

Test your site, record the results and report back your findings.

Key questions

Think about these questions as you work through the activity for this session and make notes in your wiki to record your ideas. You will find your notes useful when you tackle the module assignment.

Why build a model design?

How good is your design? How can you improve it? How can you know whether a particular feature or function is better than its possible alternatives? How can you avoid disagreements in the design team and fruitless waste of time and effort on designs that are not going to work?

What sort of model do we need?

What kind of insight into the finished design are you trying to achieve? What types of design models are there and what kinds of issues about the design can they help with? How do sketches and protoypes fit into an overall design method? When have you done enough?

How long should it take to produce a model?

Which bits of the design should the model focus on? What is the model actually testing? Does it have to look professional? Do you need to be an artist to produce a good model?

What do you need to build a paper model?

What are we actually testing? The information you need to include and strategies for gathering it will depend on what you are trying to do. How does paper based modelling increase your chances of producing a successful design?

When is the best time to test?

How soon should you begin testing? How many tests do you need?

How should tests be run?

What type of questions do you need to ask? How long should the test last? Can the test be adapted to focus on new issues or "skirt over" issues that have already been noted? What equipment is needed? In general, how scientific are such tests? How should we recruit and work with testers? Do they need to be from the core user base in order to provide valuable insights? What strategies can be use to make them comfortable and get them talking? Who should run the test? And what are their roles in the test?

What do the results mean?

What to look for during and after a test.

Seminar preparation

Prepare a brief presentation (maximum 5 wiki pages or Powerpoint slides, not counting references) on what you have done and what you have learned from this session.

To prepare for the next session take a look at the following Web sites:

Creative Commons: Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved." http://creativecommons.org/

TASI: The JISC advisory service on how to create, use and manage digital media http://www.tasi.ac.uk/

UKOLN Cultural Heritage Web Site: social networking services, digital preservation, metadata and supporting the user experience. http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cultural-heritage/

Web Accessibility Initiative: A Website dedicated to accessibility standards http://www.w3.org/WAI/

Usability Net http://www.usabilitynet.org/home.htm

The Digital Curation Centre http://www.dcc.ac.uk

The Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative http://www.digitizationguidelines.gov/

Handbook on the Preservation of Web Resources, commissioned by the JISC from UKOLN and ULCC's Digital Archives. The Handbook is full of useful information, including strategies which help you decide what to keep, how to keep it and how to ensure ongoing access to it for future generations. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/preservation/powrhandbookv1.pdf

Follow this link to the Photography Resources in a Digital Age Contents page to return to the module contents.

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Pageto return to the Course contents.