The fragility of human-centred design

Dissertation, Delft University of Technology (2008)
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In human-centred design (HCD), researchers and designers develop products in cooperation with the potential users of these products. They attempt to give users a voice or a role in their projects, with the intention of developing products that match users’ needs and preferences. This approach is especially interesting in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry, in which many innovations are driven by development of technologies. The author works in HCD projects in the ICT industry and studied one particular project as a participant observer. In this project, two telecom applications were designed together with and for two groups of users: police officers and people who provide informal care. The resulting case studies are interpreted, drawing from the fields of design studies and science and technology studies, and using texts of the philosophers Levinas and Derrida. HCD is presented as a process that happens between people and as a process with ethical qualities. The case studies demonstrate that HCD is a worthwhile approach. They also show the difficulties of cooperating with users and of multi-disciplinary team-work. HCD practitioners attempt to be open towards others, but they also tend to move towards closure and towards the self. The author suggests reflexive practice as a way for practitioners to be more aware of and to articulate these tendencies. This is intended to help them to better align their practices with what HCD can be about: a process of learning and creating together.

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